Kazuhiro Taniguchi of Osaka University has invented the "Mimi Switch" or "Ear Switch". It connects to a micro-computer that can control electronic devices, essentially making it a hands-free remote control for anything.
"You will be able to turn on room lights or swing your washing machine into action with a quick twitch of your mouth," said its inventor, Kazuhiro Taniguchi of Osaka University.
"An iPod can start or stop music when the wearer sticks his tongue out, like in the famous Einstein picture. If he opens his eyes wide, the machine skips to the next tune. A wink with the right eye makes it go back.
The device looks like a normal set of headphones but is fitted with a set of infrared sensors that measure tiny movements inside the ear that result from different facial expressions.
The Mimi Switch could also store and interpret data and get to know its user, said Taniguchi, chief researcher at Osaka University's Graduate School of Engineering Science in western Japan.
"It monitors natural movements of the face in everyday life and accumulates data," Taniguchi told AFP in an interview. "If it judges that you aren't smiling enough, it may play a cheerful song."
Some may use the device for relaxation -- perhaps by changing music hands-free while reading a book -- but Taniguchi said it could also have more serious applications to make people's lives safer and easier.
"If the system is mounted on a hearing aid for elderly people, it could tell how often they sneeze or whether they are eating regularly," he said.
"If it believes they are not well, it could send a warning message to relatives."
The device could also serve as a remote control for appliances for physically disabled people, from cameras and computers to air conditioners, or alert medical services if a person has a fit, he said.
The Ear Switch follows on from an earlier device called the Temple Switch that was small enough to fit inside a pair of eyeglasses and also read the flick of an eyelid.
Some other Work from the Sam Researcher
Kazuhiro Taniguchi, Atsushi Nishikawa, Seiichiro Kawanishi, Fumio Miyazaki,
"KOMEKAMI switch:A novel wearable input device using movement of temple, "Journal of Robotics and Mechatronics, Vol.20, No.2 (Bpp. 260 - 272 , 2008.)
(keywords: Wearable computing, Human-Machine interface, Temple, Switching)
Endoscope Robot for Laparoscopic Surgery
Kazuhiro Taniguchi, Atsushi Nishikawa, Takeharu Kobayash, Kouhei Kazuhara, Takaharu Ichihara, Naoto Kurashita, Mitsugu Sekimoto, Kazuyuki Okada, Shuji Takiguchi, Morito Monden, and Fumio Miyazaki.
" Development of a Disposable Laparoscope Manipulator using Hydraulic Actuators (Second Prtotype)". In Proceedings of the 20th International Conference of Society for Medical Innovation and Technology (SMIT2008), p.211, Vienna, Austria, (2008).
(Keywords: Laparoscope Manipulator, Disposable robot)
Japanese version of Kazuhiro Taniguchi of Osaka University site
A lot of interesting papers at the Journal of Robotics and Mechatronics