Whisper Secrets Through Your Fingers, Not Lips

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The party game Telephone may never be the same again. Research scientists in Pittsburgh have created a special microphone that you can whisper into and then transmit that whisper directly to someone else’s ear through your fingertips.

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This interactive art installation called Ishin-Den-Shin is based on the Japanese concept of unspoken understanding. The phrase translates into “what the mind thinks, the heart transmits.” It was first developed earlier this year by Yuri Suzuki, Olivier Bau and Ivan Poupyrev at Disney Research in Pittsburgh, and New Scientist reported that it recently received an honorary mention for interactive art at the Ars Electronica 2013 festival in Austria.

You might remember Poupyrev from his Botanicus Interacticus interface for houseplants. This time, he and his colleagues made a system with a unique microphone connected to a computer’s sound card that can record sounds and transmit them through touch. First you whisper into the microphone, which records the audio. Then the message is transformed into an inaudible signal that’s transmitted to the microphone-holder’s body in the form of a lower power version of the recorded sound. This produces an electrostatic field around the microphone holder’s skin.

As soon as that microphone-holding person touches someone else’s ear, the field creates a tiny vibration that can be heard. ”The inaudible signal can be transmitted from body to body, using any sort of physical contact,” the scientists explained online. So, creepily or sweetly, your finger could deliver a whispered phrase directly into someone else’s ear.

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A chain of people can receive the original message as long as they are in physical contact with the first person who holds the microphone. While I’m not sure what Disney Research plans to do with Ishin-Den-Shin technology, it feels like a hipster-y version of the Telephone game. Only it’s not how garbled the message gets by the end but how many friends can come together to feel one whisper.

Photo: The Ishin-Den-Shin interactive art installation has a microphone that can record sounds and then transmit them through touch. Credit: Disney Research