Science News

Vibrating Vests Spell Out Silent Messages

Sun, 7th Jan 2007

Part of the show Red Wine, Caffeine and Bugs in Your Gut

Have you ever had the feeling that your clothes are trying to talk to you? Perhaps your shirt cries out wash me or your socks scream change me! Well, actually talking clothes may not be as mad as they sound, and in fact they could have important applications for the military. So much so that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in America are developing a vibrating vest that could give silent commands to soldiers in action. The vest contains 16 small vibrating motors imbedded into the back which respond to a remote computer and spell out a sort of back-Braille. The team led by Lynette Jones at MIT, are testing 15 vibrating codes on volunteers by trying to guide them through an obstacle course - and to great affect - nearly all of the signals have been correctly interpreted. The tactile codes include all four corners of the vest vibrating together, which means stop, and a vibrating column that moves across to the left or right, indicating which way the person should turn and other signals mean raise arms up or hop - although I'm not sure how useful that last will be in battle. These vibrating vests are showing great promise, since it could be very useful to have a way of communicating simple tasks when a soldier's hands, eyes and ears are busy doing other things. And maybe one day soldiers won't be imagining things if they think their clothes are trying to talk to them.

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