Who’d have thought gesture-based controls would expand to this: A new invention by Kazuhiro Taniguchi, at Osaka University, lets you control your iPod by pulling different facial expressions.
The gizmo works by having highly accurate pressure sensors actually lodged in the ear buds of an otherwise normal-looking pair of headphones. The on-board computer continually measures the pressure in the wearer’s ear canal, and picks up the minute sequential changes caused to your ear-canal as your muscles change the expression on your face.
Obviously finger-based touch controls, which had seemed so very futuristic, are now passé–instead you’ll soon be able to mute your MP3 player by wiggling your ears, or skip tracks by winking. One wonders what faces you have to pull to control the volume. And chewing gum presents its own set of problems, no doubt.
But this invention is not wholly frivolous. Taniguchi’s “ear switch” is perfectly suited for certain kinds of medical monitoring, for example–detecting if the user has a cold or allergies that are causing them to sneeze. For disabled people or those suffering paralysis, a remote control that’s as simple as a set of earbuds is going to be more flexible and easier to use than many other options like blow-sensors and voice recognition systems. And it’s easy to imagine the device having military applications in covert communications systems.
In combination with normal touch-controls, the ear switch could be a very useful device, depending on the gadgets it’s connected to, and how coarse or simple the control needs to be. But as far as its iPod-controlling options go, the ear switch is most likely to turn into a novelty device, though I’m inescapably reminded of a Douglas Adams quote about an advance in gesture-controlled radios: “It saved a lot of muscular expenditure of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme.”