Electrical Probes Forcibly Steer Your Head Toward Lost Items

In a paper published for the 2022 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI, for short) which is currently taking place in New Orleans, the researchers detail an approach they’re calling Electrical Head Actuation, where visual and auditory cues used to help locate an object are replaced with electrical neck muscle stimulation that directly manipulates the orientation of a user’s head: left and right or up and down.

The electrical stimulation isn’t strong enough to cause pain or unpleasant sensations, although experiencing your head being turned all on its own would probably be an unsettling feeling for many. On one hand, the approach sounds a little over the top, but on the other hand, if you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve frantically searched for something only to find it sitting right in front of you the entire time, maybe the idea has some merit?

Don’t expect electrical neck muscle stimulation to be a new feature rolled out with the next generation of Apple’s AirTag trackers—it’s doubtful any users will want to spend 10 minutes every morning sticking electrical probes all over their necks just to make it slightly easier to find their keys. But the researchers propose some other interesting applications when the technology is paired with virtual reality or augmented reality headsets.

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Electrical Head Actuation could be a more realistic approach to force feedback, especially in games where players take damage. Take a boxing game, where an opponent landing a blow could temporarily turn a player’s head and distract them from a follow-up barrage of punches, as would happen in a real bout. It could also be used for navigation, such as inside a building that’s being evacuated. A user’s head could automatically turn in the direction they need to go, eliminating the need for visual cues, which in some situations could be an unwanted or dangerous distraction.

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