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Biotech Technology

On-Body Circuits Create New Sense Organ 289

destinyland writes "In 'My New Sense Organ,' a science writer tests 'a new sense' — the ability to always know true north — by strapping a circuit board to her ankle. It's connected to an electronic compass and an ankle band with eight skin buzzers. The result? 'I had wrong assumptions I didn't know about ... I returned home to Washington DC to find that, far worse than my old haunt San Francisco, my mental map of DC swapped north for west. I started getting more lost than ever as the two spatial concepts of DC did battle in my head.' The device also detects 'the specific places where infrastructure interferes with the earth's magnetic fields.'
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On-Body Circuits Create New Sense Organ

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  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:37PM (#29441895) Homepage
    A bracelet! Much more practical than the haptic compass belt [grinding.be], then.
  • by Bicx ( 1042846 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:39PM (#29441917)
    Is this really a new sensory organ if it just relies on buzzers rather than direct neural connections? Maybe I've just been spoiled by all the awesome research done in computer-brain interfaces.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      If university students took it upon themselves to do some advanced neurological surgery as a fun project...


      I hope they would Youtube the procedure.

      • What would be even more awesome would be if they chose to do it to themselves with the help of some Yoga classes and a mirror. That would make for one heck of a YouTube video.

    • by Hyppy ( 74366 )
      I find it fascinating, actually. Why have direct neural connections when one's body makes all the necessary interpretations based upon available stimuli?
      • Lag !
        (and retroaction, but that is another subject)

        • Yup. Of course, the next question becomes what, practical, application can you think of in which you would need ultra-low lag in finding magnetic north? Really, most of the, truly, useful applications of direct neural connections would be in the realm of controlling electronic devices and directly manipulating our perception to create realistic VR for entertainment interaction with remote/dangerous environments.

    • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:55PM (#29442205)
      It has little teeny tiny pipes, bellows, keyboard, and guy in a cape with a mask over half his face.
    • by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @01:05PM (#29442389)

      The body is an amazing thing. The brain, too. I was recently reading about a camera device that sends signal data to a 'lollipop' that is placed on the tongue of blind people. In short time, the people's brains began to interpret the signals (which are not the same as optical signals at all) as to what it truly was --- and the patients began to see. http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/08/22/2035256 [slashdot.org]

      It really amazes me at the ability of the brain to start with some from of stimulus (beit natural or induced) and decipher its relevance.

      The difference in what qualifies 'sensory organ' may well be semantics; or maybe we need new definitions to describe these novel apparatus.

      In contrast, neurons are not in direct connection, either; neurotransmitters span a space between them called the synaptic cleft. Those neurotransmitters are chemical stimuli; these 'buzzers' are electronic stimuli. There are some differences and none are very clearly understood, but as far as I know we might accomplish the same by 'buzzing' with small and rapid doses of neurotransmitters instead of buzzing.

      • by Bicx ( 1042846 )
        I have a degree in Computer Science with a concentration in scientific applications, and my education only leaves me more amazed and confounded by how well the brain adapts to situations that would have never even happened in a natural setting (like the mouthpiece connected to the camera device).
      • by gmuslera ( 3436 )

        The ability of the brain to find a pattern in some stimuli and built "on the fly" a new sense of it is simply amazing, and opens the possibility of new senses for all, even if is as a fashion trend.

        But mass deployment must be aware that it also takes place, or adds "noise", to at least a region of our actual existing senses, information that could have been useful or needed and now become blurred by this artificial input. And there is of course the physical impact of it in that area. Picking the right pla

      • by AP31R0N ( 723649 )

        i think they invented that system to help SCUBA divers navigate in the dark (and plant explosives on enemy boats at night).

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        camera device that sends signal data to a 'lollipop' that is placed on the tongue of blind people.

        There's a truly tasteless joke in here somewhere but I'm too lazy to figure it out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tool462 ( 677306 )

        maybe we need new definitions to describe these novel apparatus.

        I agree. Perhaps something like extra-sensory apparatus, and the usage can be called extra-sensory perception.

    • by cabjf ( 710106 )
      Technically this is a computer-brain interface. The device is just using convenient, pre-existing inputs to the brain. The average person considers taste a sense even though it relies heavily on one's sense of smell. So what the difference if this relies on someone's sense of touch?
      • It's still not a new sense, any more than a regular compass that communicates via a naturally occurring one.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dzfoo ( 772245 )

        >> Technically this is a computer-brain interface. The device is just using convenient, pre-existing inputs to the brain.

        So, does that mean that reading a regular compass in the old-fashioned way, say, by using your eyes, qualifies as a computer-brain interface, since the device (the compass) is just using a convenient, pre-existing input mechanism to the brain (the eyes)?

        >> So what the difference if this relies on someone's sense of touch?

        The difference then is that the actual "sensoring" is do

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

      That's a new sense nested inside an already existing sense. Like an HUD in your eye that would show you an infrared overlay would be like a new sense inside your sense of vision.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:39PM (#29441925)

    ...from my ankle to a more "centrally located area" and I stopped caring about getting lost.

    In fact, turning in circles became quite pleasurable.

    Does anyone have any kleenex handy?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      huh huh huh... organ... huh huh huh...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nametaken ( 610866 )

        I'll tell you what's amazing is that what you just wrote, and the fact that we get it, demonstrates just how deeply we've all internalized OLD ass cartoon characters as outward communicators of our inner dumbass.

  • by ohsmeguk ( 1048214 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:43PM (#29441991)
    I've heard of people implanting tiny rare earth magnets in their fingers so they can sense current flowing through wires and magnetic fields. I would like to try it when I can be certain they won't break when they're under my skin... :P
  • True North??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cassini2 ( 956052 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:45PM (#29442035)

    the ability to always know true north ... electronic compass

    I've been to Northern Canada. A compass points to MAGNETIC North. True North [wikipedia.org] is at the North pole, the point on which the earth spins. At true north, the sun never sets, and sometimes never rises for days on end. In summer, it has the longest days in the world. In winter, the longest nights. Magnetic north is not the same place at all ...

    Magnetic North [wikipedia.org] has some interesting properties too. Amongst others, the Magnetic south and north poles move around, periodically flip, and do not pass through the center of the earth.

    • I think they meant True North being "True Magnetic North" and not what "They thought was North" - which is entirely the fault of the people reporting, because a compass doesn't tell you True North.

      But a GPS system could - why not make an App for an IPhone

    • Re:True North??? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JWyner ( 653364 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:53PM (#29442171)
      The only person to ever mention "true" north is the Slashdot poster. TFA never describes true north, and actually specifically states that they are using magnetic north. I am not entirely sure *why* they went out of their way to add the "true" and make the description *untrue*, but thought it worth giving credit to the actual science writer for understanding the difference...
      • And what a pain in the ass that would be! True north is different from magnetic north depending on WHERE you are measure it from. So that whole ankle thing would have to have a GPS or something, to know how far off of magnetic north to point...

        Also, think of how hard it would be to find True north in Australia. Now Magnetic south, that would be easy.. (or do AUS compasses just have the other part of the dial weighted, so the point south.. i've never been sure on that one...)

    • by ebuck ( 585470 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:54PM (#29446949)

      At true north, the sun never sets, and sometimes never rises for days on end.

      I personally would like to see a Sun that never sets and yet only rarely rises.

  • It was posted here two and a half years ago [slashdot.org].

  • What is the best compass technology available today? A magnetised needle is so, erm 20th century - I'd expect a solid state mechanism to identify orientation by now... it's an application I'd like my mobile phone to have.

    • Tempted to reply http://justfuckinggoogleit.com but I'll answer instead of being a [total] dick.

      You are probably not interested in the "best" "compass" technology today, since you want something for your phone. There are plenty of solid state solutions to magnetic field detection, one cheap one is available from Honeywell, a magnetoresistive bridge circuit which provides 3D field measurement - the HMC1043. I had a watch with one in it for awhile. It's a 1kohm bridge, which explains why it's not in your c
    • Casio has digital compasses in a number of their "Pathfinder" watches. For example the PAG40B-2V [casio.com]. However those watches tend to be a bit pricey ($250-$500) and bulky (in part due to the solar panel, barometer, altimeter and temperature sensors that are also in the watches).

    • The iPhone already has an integrated magnetic digital compass...

    • but you can get a good magnetic needle compass for like $5.00

  • by Haxamanish ( 1564673 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:59PM (#29442267)
    When I was a teen, I always consciously kept track where the North was. Every time I made a turn, I would adjust my imaginary compass - yeah I was some kind of freak. I would also make note of the orientation of some landmarks in every city. After a while, it became an automatism, now (over 20 yrs later) I often amaze people by pointing where the North is with very good accuracy without using a compass. It always works, but if I have been a passenger in a car (or other transport) it takes about half an hour after arriving before I know where the North is. Extra bonus: if the sun is visible, I can read the time of day from its position. I guess everybody can train it with a little bit of effort.
  • North Paw (Score:5, Informative)

    by EricBoyd ( 532608 ) <mrericboydNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @01:22PM (#29442675) Homepage
    Some friends and I are the creator of the North Paw compass anklet. You can check out our website at sensebridge [sensebridge.net], or read all of our hack notes on the noisebridge wiki: compass vibro anket [noisebridge.net]. You can purchase North Paw kits from us for $95, and then you don't have to take Quinn's word for what it's like to wear one :-)
    • by joeyblades ( 785896 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @01:48PM (#29443067)

      This should complement my House Arrest Ankle Bracelet quite nicely...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by VShael ( 62735 )

      I was going to buy one, but luckily you also included a page on "items you will need".
      I'm afraid I'm not one of those geeks who owns a soldering iron, nor do I have any interest in buying one and learning how to use it.

      I could be wrong, but you might sell more of them if no soldering was required by the buyer.

  • Saskatoon (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Relden ( 1030180 )
    I've lived in Southern Ontario most of my life and have a fairly good sense of direction. I usually know where north is.I wonder if this is more a function of memory than an innate ability: if I am a passenger in a car and fall asleep, I'll be lost when I wake up until I see enough visual cues to reestablish my knowledge of where north is. The same happens if I'm driving through a subdivision with lots of curved streets. A couple of decades ago I moved to Saskatoon in western Canada. I was lost. It wasn't
  • i live outside of DC. Driving in that cluster frak is a pain. Street names are confusing, they don't align from block to block, it's not remotely grid like, few places to u-turn. As much as i dislike taking the metro in, driving is just painful.

  • I moved to Colorado Springs about a year ago, and it's done wonders for aligning my landmark based navigation with a compass. All I have to do is look up find the massive mountain range running due North/South that's usually due West of me.

    It's really made me much more aware of compass directions. I now give directions based off the compass, rather than left/right.
  • Mental maps of places aren't like GPS maps. They record limited data to get you from place to place. Knowing that the interstate has a 2 degree kink 57 miles into your trip does nothing but waste brain cycles. Trying to use precision input for our imprecise cognition is a poor coupling.
  • The device also detects 'the specific places where infrastructure interferes with the earth's magnetic fields'

    Like the Swan hatch?

  • The problems mentioned in TFA including tilt error and local magnetic disturbances (to some extent) are solved by using an integrated 3-axis gyro+accelerometer+magnetometer unit, such as this one: http://vectornav.com/products/74-vn-100 [vectornav.com]

    True its not cheap, but if I'm getting a new sensory organ I'd like it to be high quality... :)

  • Lost in DC? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lucas_picador ( 862520 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @02:45PM (#29444027)

    How could anyone lose track of cardinal directions in DC, even for a moment? It's built on a NS/EW grid, with the streets named on a number/letter system. It's got a giant phallic symbol sticking up in the exact middle (which is at 16th street NW, okay, but that still shouldn't affect one's sense of north vs. west).

    The only place I can imagine where it would be harder to mistake west for north would be Manhattan, with its street (EW) vs. avenue (NS) distinction being impossible to miss.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"