05 January 2008

New technologies to augment the human senses

Wired, Mixed Feelings:

On a clear day, visual cues let the pilot's brain correct for errors. But in the dark, a pilot who misreads the plane's instruments can end up in a death spiral. Between 1990 and 2004, 11 percent of US Air Force crashes — and almost a quarter of crashes at night — resulted from spatial disorientation. ...

Tom Schnell [Director of the Operator Performance Lab at the University of Iowa] showed me the the next-generation garment, the Spatial Orientation Enhancement System ... a mesh of hard-shell plastic, elastic, and Velcro that fit over my arms and torso, strung with vibrating elements called tactile stimulators, or tactors.

Flight became intuitive. When the plane tilted to the right, my right wrist started to vibrate — then the elbow, and then the shoulder as the bank sharpened. It was like my arm was getting deeper and deeper into something. To level off, I just moved the joystick until the buzzing stopped. I closed my eyes so I could ignore the screen.

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