Can you imagine feeling Earth's magnetic field on the tip of your tongue? Strangely, this is now possible, using a device that converts the tongue into a "display" for output from environmental sensors.
The tongue is known to have an extremely dense sensing resolution, as well as an extraordinary degree of neuroplasticity, the ability to adapt to and internalize new input. Research has shown that electro-tactile tongue displays paired with cameras can be used as vision prosthetics for the blind or visually impaired; users quickly learn to read and navigate through natural environments, and many describe the signals as an innate sense. However, existing displays are expensive and difficult to adapt. Tongueduino is an inexpensive, vinyl-cut tongue display designed to interface with many types of sensors besides cameras. Connected to a magnetometer, for example, the system provides a user with an internal sense of direction, like a migratory bird. Piezo whiskers allow a user to sense orientation, wind, and the lightest touch. Through tongueduino, we hope to bring electro-tactile sensory substitution beyond the discourse of vision replacement, towards open-ended sensory augmentation that anyone can access.
Gershon Dublon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology devised a small pad containing electrodes in a 5 × 5 grid. Users put the pad, which Gershon calls Tongueduino, on their tongue. When hooked up to an electronic sensor, the pad converts signals from the sensor into small pulses of electric current across the grid, which the tongue "reads" as a pattern of tingles.
Dublon says the brain quickly adapts to new stimuli on the tongue and integrates them into our senses. For example, if Tongueduino is attached to a sensor that detects Earth's magnetic field, users can learn to use their tongue as a compass. "You might not have to train much," he says. "You could just put this on and start to perceive."
Dublon has been testing Tongueduino on himself for the past year using a range of environmental sensors. He will now try the device out on 12 volunteers.
Blair MacIntyre at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta says a wireless version of Tongueduino could prove useful in augmented reality applications that deliver information to users inconspicuously, without interfering with their vision or hearing. "There's a need for forms of awareness that aren't socially intrusive," he says. Even Google's much-publicised Project Glass will involve wearing a headset, he points out.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald