updated 02:05 pm EDT, Mon March 9, 2009
Mimi Switch reads faces
A Japanese device called the Mimi Switch or Ear Switch has the ability to read a wearer's facial expression, including a blink of an eye, smile or raised eyebrow. It can accomplish this via its infrared sensors in the ear, the inside of which moves according to the facial expressions, and translate those movements into controls for attached personal electronics devices such as iPods. Invented and developed by Kazuhiro Taniguchi of the Engineering Science Graduate School at Osaka University, the device is connected to a computer which interprets the signals to control connected devices.
The Ear Switch can be programmed to recognize different expressions and even doubles as a relaxing aid. It can monitor a user's natural movements and play a song to cheer them if it concludes he is not smiling enough. Taniguchi hopes to apply this to make people's lives easier as well as monitor their health, citing one example where it could be built into hearing aids of the elderly and monitor how often they cough and how often they eat. A warning message could then be sent to relatives or caretakers. As well, the disabled can control devices such as washers and dryers, though they will have to load them themselves.
Taniguchi hopes to patent his prototype in Japan and other countries and develop a wireless version. He hopes to find corporate funding to help put the device on store shelves, which he expects will take between two or three years. [via PhysOrg]