Remote-controlled humans

NTT has demonstrated a remote-control system for people. The researchers outfit their subject with two electrodes behind the ears that "pull" her in one direction or another. As you can see in the video accompanying a Forbes article on the technology, the subject walks (and laughs) like she's just hammered. This reminds of the Tele-actor, a project I worked on with Ken Goldberg, Eric Paulos, Judith Donath, and others several years ago. (Link to PDF.) One big difference is that we just asked our human robot to respond to our wirelessly-transmitted wishes. The NTT system is more, er, demanding. From Forbes:

 Media 2005 08 Remote HumanThis sort of electrical stimulation is known as galvanic vestibular stimulation, or GVS. When a weak DC current is delivered to the mastoid behind your ear, your body responds by shifting your balance toward the anode. The stronger the current, the more powerful its pull. If it is strong enough, it not only throws you off balance but alters the course of your movement….

The most persuasive commercial applications of (NTT researcher Taro) Maeda's GVS device will most likely be in gaming; researchers put together a crude virtual racing game to demonstrate how GVS heightened the perception of centrifugal force as users watch the car wind its way around the track on a video screen. Manabu Sakurai, NTT's marketing manager, says the company is currently investigating whether or not gamers would be interested in the device. Flight simulators are another area of interest.

"Many people talk about that," Sakurai explained. "Because GVS causes you to feel the same kinds of motion as a large-scale flight simulator, it could be a much simpler and more cost-effective way to train people."


UPDATE: Justin Maxwell writes:

I tried the GVS at SIGGRAPH's Emerging Technologies area on Monday. The researchers are hoping it will take off in gaming, but after only five minutes of use I had a strong metallic taste (like licking the contacts of a 9-volt battery — one of the rituals of childhood) in my mouth, and had a very weird headache — a pulsating blunt feeling in the middle of my head — for about three hours afterwards. That's just after five minutes of use; most of my video game excursions involve 2-3 hours of trying to destroy my friends. I can't imagine how terrible my head would hurt after hours of that.

They gave us a survey afterwards and the answers from previous survey recipients were visible — it looked as if none of us had a very pleasant experience. Being zapped in the head and falling over was interesting, but it is not the same sensation as feeling like you are leaning to the right or left.