Dr. Pedro Lopes wants to close the gap between human and machine.
Dr. Lopes, a University of Chicago professor who heads the university’s Human Computer Integration lab, is working on creating a wearable EMS device. Unlike today’s traditional wearables, which essentially function like mini smartphones, the next generation of wearable devices Dr. Lopes and his team are working on are being designed to manipulate your muscles with electrical impulses.
The wearable device would give a person the ability to perform a task they do not know how to do.
Dr. Lopes believes that he is on the path to create a wearable EMS device (EMS stands for electrical muscle stimulation) that will manipulate a person’s muscles with electrical impulses to cause them to move involuntarily so that they can perform a physical task that they would otherwise not know how to do. For instance, operating machinery, playing a musical instrument, etc.
Dr. Lopes and his team are focused on engineering wearable and haptic devices that could intentionally share part of our body for input and output, for the purpose of allowing computers to be more directly integrated into our bodily senses and actuators.
Dr. Lopes said at the recent CNBC Evolve Summit in Chicago that wearables which can be purchased today are essentially only small smartphones. However, he believes they can be more. Instead of only reading signals from the body, the devices could also intersect and interject signals into the human body.
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“If a wearable is able to move our muscles, we’ve just unlocked a very different way to learn a physical skill,” Dr. Lopes said, CNBC reports. “Instead of learning a skill by reading a book about it or seeing a YouTube video about how to do this carpentry movement or how to juggle or play a musical instrument, in the future we may be learning how to do it by having a wearable device control our muscles.”
Electrodes on the wearable EMS device stimulate hand and finger muscles.
The way that the device works is it stimulates a person’s hand and finger muscles via electrodes. A device equipped with this technology is worn on the arm. The tool that the wearer wants to interact with is equipped with an RFID tag, not unlike the one that can be found within a credit card. The RFID tag is programmed with the motions the muscles require to properly use the tool.
Dr. Lopes’ system nudges a user to perform hand gestures such as turn, repel, squeeze, drop, raise and shake. Complex actions are accomplished by combining these various actions.
That being said, while the device is very impressive, it won’t be available anytime soon. Dr. Lopes admits that he and his team are still in the early stages of their research and have a long way to go to fine-tune the muscle control. However, he remains optimistic about the future of his wearable EMS device technology.