Recent scientifi c advances allow the use of technology to expand the number of forms of energy that can be perceived by humans. Smart sensors can detect hazards that human
sensors are unable to perceive, for example radiation. This fusing of technology to human’s forms of perception enables exciting new ways of perceiving the world around us. In this paper we describe the design of SpiderSense, a wearable device that projects the wearer’s near environment on the skin and allows for directional awareness of objects around him. The millions of sensory receptors that cover the skin presents opportunities for conveying alerts and messages. We discuss the challenges and considerations of designing similar wearable devices.
There are three scenarios that can bene fit from the use of SpiderSense.
1. One of the wearer’s senses has already identi ed an object and SpiderSense helps localize the direction of the object. Pedestrians for example when walking use their vision to locate obstacles and avoid them. By using SpiderSense they could bene t by feeling” on their body how far away, qualitatively, an obstacle is. This is especially useful if, at some point, the object is hidden from the wearer as they approach.
2. Sometimes senses are overwhelmed with information and SpiderSense may be used to ease the load on one sense by displaying this information through another sense. Firemen for example, when working in a hazardous environment have limited visibility because of smoke and need to be constantly aware of their surroundings to avoid falling debris for example. By using SpiderSense they get spatial information of the room from these Sensor Modules, therefore potentially allowing them to concentrate their vision on the re hazards.
3. There is an incoming obstacle or threat that is not being detected by any of the other senses (e.g. an intruder approaching from behind).
The suit weighs a little over 3 pounds.
The prototype cost around $500.
Technology miniaturization and getting the SpiderSense into a production line will cut the costs down even more.
The preliminary experiments showed that the tactile display works well in outdoor environments where the number of obstacles is low. However this is more challenging indoors when the sensor modules overwhelm the user with tactile feedback.
We described how to calculate the maximum delay that occurs when using ultrasonic distance sensors to build a tactile display. While we identifi ed a positioning for the Sensor Modules that we believe is representative for 360o coverage, other confi gurations need to be evaluated as well. Psychophysical studies show that tactile distance is overestimated on areas with high mechanoreceptor density (as opposed to low) hence a more elaborate algorithm needs to take this into consideration when providing tactile feedback. Furthermore, we experimented only with a linear mapping between sensor distance and tactile pressure, therefore other mappings need to be investigated. It is conceivable that different environments will require di erent distance to pressure mappings.
Also to be determined is whether an individual, through long-term use of the sensors, can learn to adapt to them and begin to recognize signature patterns such as the feeling on both their arms whenever they walk through a door; and whether sequences of signature patterns can be remembered and therefore used to form a tactile map of the environment. Lastly it would be interesting to solicit the feedback of individuals who are visually handicapped to compare how well their current technologies (physical or ultrasound cane) compares to SpiderSense
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.