The Project

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Our aim is to investigate the effects of long-term stimulation with orientation information on humans. In order to do this, we constructed a belt which enables its user to feel his orientation in space via vibrotactile stimulation.

This belt is equipped with a set of vibrators controlled by an electronic compass: the element pointing north is always slightly vibrating. That way, the person wearing the belt gets permanent input about his heading relative to the earth's magnetic field.

In a pilot study conducted in 2005 we first tested whether subjects could integrate the information provided by the belt. Although promising, the results were not entirely conclusive. Therefore we're currently running a large-scale follow-up study: twelve subjects wear this belt for a six week training period. Through a battery of experiments before and after the training period, we are able to measure physiological, behavioural, perceptual and subjective changes induced by the feelSpace belt.

This study will contribute greatly to our understanding of how humans learn to use their "built-in" sensors and actuators: eyes and ears, fingers and legs - questions which could previously only be answered by studies with infants. And whats more: through sophisticated interview techniques we also gain insight into the subjective quality of this new sensory experience.

Sensory Substitution

The person who can be seen as the father of sensory substitution is the physician Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita. In the late sixties, he built the empirical foundation of the "substitution of the senses".

Bach-y-Rita was looking for a possibility to use machines for the compensation of sensory deficits. So, for instance, the use of a camera and transduction of the picture into systematical tactile stimulation can compensate a deficit in visual perception. This idea was first realized in the year 1963 in a "Tactile to Visual Sensory Substitution" device (TVSS).

The pictures taken by the camera are transduced into tactile stimulation at the back of blind persons. The use of the tactile sense for the human-machine interface was made possible through the enormous adaptability (plasticity) of the brain.

The Quality of Experience

A theoretical basis of our work and an explanation why the sensory substitution works is provided by the perception theory of Alva Noe and Kevin O'Regan. According to their approach, the special experience, which we associate with a certain sensory modality, is not established by the activation of certain brain areas. It will, however, be defined through the systematical change in the sensation as a result of an action. In this context, a modality becomes a certain way of actively exploring the environment and it is not bound to a certain sensory apparatus.

A comprehensive presentation of the theory can be found in the article published in 2001: "A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness".

Click here to read more about sensory substitution!

Methods

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The feelSpace belt is a wearable sensory augmentation device that projects the direction of north onto the waist of the user using thirty vibrating actuators. Beyond this, it features a gyro- and accelerometer-stabilised compass unit, GPS, continuous data logging to a MicroSD card and an intuitive button-less "Tap"-interface. The belt exists both in an fMRI compatible version using (non-ferromagnetic) piezo ceramics as actuators and a "casual" version using pager motors.

Subjects in our studies wear the belt all day long for six weeks. Before and after this training period, we run our subjects through a battery of tests that aim to identify the effects of using the belt on all levels from neuronal network activity via behavioural measures to changes in the subjective perception of space.


Publications

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  • Beyond sensory substitution - learning the sixth sense.
    Nagel, S. K., Carl, C., Kringe, T., Märtin, R., & König, P. (2005).
    Journal of neural engineering, 2(4), R13-26. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/2/4/R02.

Other Projects

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Next-Generation Belt Design: FH Potsdam

Our group has won an additional partner for the feelSpace project: A cooperation contract has just been signed with the Fachhochschule Potsdam

The joint project "Design for feelSpace", pursued by Alexander Warth and Peter König, aims at boosting the current state-of-the-art of the so-called „feelSpace belt“ with regard to its design, product conception, integration and acceptance in everyday life, usability and producibility / realizability. The envisioned target of this cooperation is the creation of a prototype incorporating and implementing all those carved out features.

The inner workings: the electronics workshop

Much of the development of the electronic design of current feelSpace belt was done by and in close co-operation with the the University of Osnabrüs;ck's Electronics Workshop under supervision of Uwe Klaas.

Getting Lost

Topographical disorientation may occur without any brain injury and with intact cognitive functioning, resulting in what we termed as Developmental Topographical Disorientation (DTD). The approaches in this study involve behavioural and neuroimaging (fMRI, DTI) techniques aiming at assessing the different cognitive strategies that individuals are able (or not) to use to orient within an environment.

In Co-Operation with Dr. Giuseppe Iaria's lab at the University of Calgary, Canada, we are investigating the effect of the feelSpace belt on patients suffering from DTD using a novel brain imaging methods.

Click to see more exciting spin-off projects!

Media

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On the Web...

Creative Applications wrote a nice article about feelSpace.

Wired.com published an article on sensory substitution research featuring feelSpace.


feelSpace featured in BBC Horizon

BBC One made a documentary on feelSpace as part of the "Seeing is Believing" episode, broadcast on 8 Jan 2011 (click image to view)


© BBC 2009

Team

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Current Members

  • Prof. Dr. Peter König

    Prof. Dr. Peter König

    Project Supervision

  • Dr. Sabine König

    Dr. Sabine König

    Project Management, Subjective Methods

  • Dr. Saskia Nagel

    Dr. Saskia Nagel

    Sleep EEG, Subjective Methods

  • Manuel Ebert

    Manuel Ebert

    Psychophysics, Virtual Reality


  • Johannes Keyser

    Johannes Keyser

    fMRI

  • Caspar Goeke

    Caspar Goeke

    Sleep EEG, Nystagmography

  • Carina Krause

    Carina Krause

    Homing, Training

  • Sabine Seyffarth

    Sabine Seyffarth

    rsfMRI

  • Silke Kärcher

    Silke Kärcher

    feelSpace Blind

  • Sebastian Fleck

    Sebastian Fleck

    fMRI


Research Assistants

  • Maria Schmitz

    Maria Schmitz

    Development & Maintenance

  • Alisher Numonov

    Alisher Numonov

    Belt Development

  • Ricardo Gameiro

    Ricardo Gameiro

    Sleep EEG

  • Manuel Hanke-Uhe

    Manuel Hanke-Uhe

    Homing


  • Bianca Sieveritz

    Bianca Sieveritz

    Psychophysics

  • Vincent Brunsch

    Vincent Brunsch

    Homing

  • Aleksey Lytochkin

    Aleksey Lytochkin

    Sleep EEG

  • Sebastian Gasse

    Sebastian Gasse

    Virtual Reality


Former Members

  • Frank Schumann

    Frank Schumann

    Project Management &
    All Subprojects

  • Anna-Antonia Pape

    Anna-Antonia Pape

    feelSpace Blind

  • Robert Muil

    Robert Muil

    Belt Hardware


Click to see more team members.

Contact

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If you'd like to get in touch with us, become a feelSpace subject, write or blog about the project please don't hesitate to contact us and ask for further information!

 

 


Prof. Dr. Peter König
Neurobiopsychology Lab

University of Osnabrück, Germany
Institute of Cognitive Science
Albrechtstr. 28
D-49069 Osnabrück, Germany