The sensation feels like Pop Rocks, but this 5x5 electrode grid can let your mouth see. Tongueduino, by MIT Media Lab’s Gershon Dublon, is a display that you can’t quite taste but you’ll definitely feel as it painlessly sizzles pixels on your tongue.
“The tongue is known to have a high sensing resolution and a high degree of neuroplasticity in its connection to the brain,” Dublon tells Co.Design. “The latter means (we hope) that we can integrate new signals delivered through the tongue more quickly than other places on the body, which makes it a compelling location for experimenting and iterating with different sensors and mappings.”
Its hardware is a relatively simple lab-made hack that costs all of a buck to produce. A vinyl strip houses a grid of inkjet-printed copper pads, controlled by an Arduino processor. These pads conduct a tiny bit of current onto your tongue on command, and the magic happens as your nervous system adapts to distinguish these hyper-localized impulses, actually learning a new sense through your tongue.
One possibility Dublon suggests is the ability to feel with your own electronic whiskers—yes, just like a cat—while another gives humans with their own magnetic bearings (essentially a compass on the tongue, not so dissimilar from what’s found in other animal species). And in this sense, Dublon wants to differentiate his research from that which has come before. “Most of the work with tongue displays has been conceived of as corrective of some pathology, and usually as replacement for a ‘missing’ sense, like vision,” he explains. “It’s not only about corrective technology, but also about experimentation with augmentation that is outside the world of medical devices.”
Indeed, Dublon imagines the ubiquity of future sensor networks—a web of connected things, measuring a vast range of information outside our imagination—as much better fodder for his Tongueduino than a literal 1:1 camera-to-tongue vision replacement. And while I can’t imagine going for a jog with an electrified chunk of vinyl in my mouth, there are moments when I’d give just about anything to feel my way to a free, open Wi-Fi network.
[Hat tip: The Verge]