David Zax

A View from David Zax

Hacking Your Hand

Japanese researchers take control of your hand. Good idea?

  • August 3, 2012

Eerie welding gear isn’t the only thing on display at the forthcoming Siggraph conference in LA. Researchers from Tokyo will be presenting something called “PossessedHand,” an apparatus that can actually control your hand for you. Isn’t human-machine interaction generally supposed to go the other way?

PossessedHand is interesting, if a little freaky. The device is strapped to the forearm and applies electrical stimuli, using them to direct the motion of your finger joints. The whole set-up comprises a micro-controller and a pair of forearm belts, which together have 28 pads (each pad specializes on a certain sense of muscles). You know when the doctor tests your reflexes by striking your knee, and you move involuntarily? Now imagine dozens of little signals like that working in concert.

“Concert,” actually, is a key word here–becauese one of the applications of the device is musical. As Dvice put it in an earlier look at the tech, “Do you want to play the violin, but can’t be bothered to learn how?” The notion, I gather, is that you can simply program the device to teach you just what strings to press, and where, and at what intensity. I can’t imagine deft performance coming from this anytime soon–but it does evoke a frightening sci-fi future in which, if this technology were extrapolated, behavior could be divorced from volition.

But I get ahead of myself. There are plenty of genuinely good uses for the technology, apart from cheating at violin lessons (or creating armies of zombie slaves). PossessedHand also evokes a sci-fi past, after all–a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Remember the cyborg hand Luke Skywalker gets at the end of Empire? By the time Jedi rolled around, it was good as new, and he was wielding that lightsaber more deftly than ever before. Perhaps those with neurological disorders might someday have their limp hands reanimated by such a device, which was reportedly co-developed by Tokyo University and Sony.

For more details of the project, check out the site of the Rekimoto Lab.  And for a look at the thing in action, see this video.

Promising, no? But do you think we’ll require regulation on such devices, so that they don’t get, well, out of hand?

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