Messages transmitted by a simple touch

Messages transmitted by a simple touch
A new technology being developed by Disney Research, Pittsburgh could lead to innovative speakerless installations where people can still hear sound. It is essentially a microphone that enables a person to record an audio message, transmit it silently through their body and reproduce it with the touch of a finger.

Called “Ishin-Den-Shin,” a Japanese expression for communicating through an unspoken mutual understanding, the technology has just won an Honorable Mention in the Prix Ars Electronica 2013 competition.

When the communicator’s finger slightly rubs an everyday object, the physical interaction creates an ad hoc speaker that makes it possible to hear the recorded sounds. If the finger touches a recipient’s ear, the message can be heard just by the recipient.

“Ishin-Den-Shin lends an unequaled level of intimacy to digital communications,” said Ivan Poupyrev, principal research scientist and head of the interaction technology group at Disney Research, Pittsburgh.
“It explores the continued blurring of the boundaries between the human body, the messages we generate and the world around us. It’s almost as if a person’s finger can whisper in your ear or playback a message hidden in an everyday physical object.”

The technology also makes it possible for a group of people who are in physical contact to turn their bodies into a transmission medium, with the signal passing silently from one to another until someone touches an object.

The Ishin-Den-Shin system includes a handheld microphone connected to a computers sound card. When someone speaks into the microphone, the computer turns the sound into a looped recording. The recording is then converted to a high-voltage, low-current inaudible signal that flows into a thin wire connected to the exterior of the microphone. This looped, inaudible signal creates a modulated electrostatic field around the body of the person who is holding the mic and can be transmitted from person to person via any sort if physical contact. The modulated electrostatic field produces a very small vibration of a finger touching an object, which forms a speaker.