This TED by David Eagleman has got me to thinking.
Eagleman is also know for research into Synesthesia and has a bestseller and PBS TV series about the Secret Lives of the Brain.
He talks about utilizing under-used human sensory receptors (Such as skin tactile neurons on large patches of say your back) to restore or even add to the Human Sensory Package to perceive the world around us: Umwelt.
This is not a new idea, as he explains in the video researchers used solenoid pins in a matrix interfaced with a camera to restore crude sight to the blind, with a tactile device resting in the small of the back, back in 1969.
Where the idea really gets interesting is how any sort of matrix of sensors providing data can be used to educate to brain as to the proper interpretation. At the 11:00 mark we see him discuss the invention of his Grad Student that uses only 24 cell-phone vibrators scattered around the back to provide the deaf with meaningful auditory information.
It works the same way you bar-graph visualization for you MP3 player works. The Auditory Spectrum is sliced into 24 chunks of frequency and the average signal strength for that chunk is fed to one of the vibrators where the intensity of vibration is proportional to signal strength.
In very short order, a guy born deaf was able to recognize spoken words by the pattern induced on his back via these 24 vibrator motors.
Eagleman and Norvich used Bluetooth for visualization effects (As I can't discern another reason) and say they expect the market-end product would cost about $2000 US.
Eagleman goes on to speculate about other uses and notes how other animals use different sensors: Pit Viper Snakes --> Detect IR, Pigeons -->Detect the Earth's Magnetic Field, Bats--> Map using Ultrasound.
Eagleman even ponders an Internet Awareness.
Where can we go with this?
SENSOR MATRIX IDEAS
One though I had was to provide visualization similar to the pioneer work by using a matrix of small disk Piezo buzzers sewn into a Lycra Tank-Top.
These disk are 10mm across (.39") and I was thinking of a matrix of 324 of these (18x18) in a patch on the upper back that was 9"x9" in area. These things cost about a buck each but they vibrate at about 7kHz with a rather limited range of amplitude.
Whereas these 10mm Linear Vibrator 'motors', for cell phone applications, vibrate in a range more in-tune with human detection (175Hz) and are basically little magnetic speakers without the paper cone in front. BUT they cost like $4 each.
My first thoughts turn towards DARPA, but a rational place to start none the less. As Senses are tools for survival and survival comes at a premium cost on the battlefield. Indeed, I do know that the Military already uses a few vibrators against the skin for rudimentary communication in harm's way.
I know there are advances in materials that morph shape when current is applied, but I can't think of the technologies atm.
Any ideas about other types of tactile transmitters?
What about Matrix ideas?
So some ideas I've started out with:
* An Eye in the back of your head.
Using a regular B&W camera on an IC chip (which also functions as a high-range IR camera) and having the signaled pixelated to match our 18x18 skin transmitter grid:
If the Camera was on say a headband we could twist it around and use it as a IR camera in the dark. (I'd suggest using a switch to invert the image to mirror when using from behind)
For DARPA Applications, you'd probably want applications with passive detection. That is to say not produce any signal ourselves for a savvy enemy to detect.
For example don't, as in-the-dark security B&W cams do, use IR LEDs to illuminate the surroundings for your IR camera.
But maybe in a less Life & Death situation, we might say PING the world ahead in ultrasound and use a battery of U-S mics on say the helmet to, like bats, learn to map our surroundings in the dark.
Past efforts such as this with deaf people have sent these signals to the ears via headphones for the user to de-code, but they balked at the loss of all the vital auditory information they we already making exceptional use of.
Thus using something like a patch of skin on your back makes a lot more sense. And as for aiding the deaf, this sort of thing is already being done.
Another idea I had was to incorporate in the aforementioned head-band a ring of vibrators to detect magnetic direction and/or direction to a known location via GPS tracking.
This brings to mind another DARPA/Police application: Presence and Direction of telecommunication EM radiation. This is especially true of the foot-solder on a modern battlefield with all the electronic situational awareness gear that is out there today, but a cell phone would also betray its owner's location too.
What are some other Energies in our daily environments we could exploit the personal detection of (Perceptions that would enhance our Umwelt)?