Sunday, March 16, 2008

On The Cognitive Properties of Skin

After posting on the voiceless phone call story below, I began searching around for more information on how the device actually works. Failing to find any relevant patents pending (suspicious, I thought) I began searching for information on Michael Callahan, the wunderkind who appears to be the principle inventor, though many are probably involved.

After some searching, the most specific information I have yet found on the technology behind the voiceless phone was found in this article from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Engineering department website. Note the passage I have emphasized:

“Once we hit upon the idea of direct input, we were off and running,” explained Thomas Coleman, a project team member. The young researchers discovered that information sent from the brain can be accurately measured through the conductive properties of the skin. Typically, according to Coleman, these measurements are obtained through rigid metallic electrodes which neither respond to natural movements of the body nor to increasing skin moisture. They often become very uncomfortable under prolonged use.

"Our system uses proprietary technology to gather neurological information through encapsulated conductive gel pads, shielding the embedded electrode from the skin,” Coleman said. ‘The Audeo’ device we developed applies gentle pressure over the vocal cords, while the form-fitting band automatically adjusts in diameter, accommodating head and neck movements to maintain efficient contact.”

From there, team members created a computer program, which reads the intercepted neurological signals, and communicates a ‘response,’ both on the screen and as an audio signal. Initial work centered on determining the differences between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ response, which could be recognized by the computer. The software has since been enhanced to effectively ‘learn’ and adapt to the user’s neurological signals without the need of extensive training. The equipment analyzes the user during a one-time calibration process and generates a personalized user identity.
(my emphasis; quote marks had to be manually inserted to replace funny characters, but i tried to represent the original faithfully)

This is how far removed from serious neuroscience I am. I had no clue. I realized some information could be gathered from the skin, like Galvanic skin response, but I must say I’m shocked to learn that phonemic information regarding unarticulated utterances can be retrieved from the skin around a person’s neck. Clearly, there is more to this story. I’ll keep digging.

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