Technology

Goosebump sensor developed by Korean research team

Goose bumps Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The researchers suggest measuring goosebumps could be used to personalise services

A research team has developed a sensor capable of measuring goosebumps on the human body in real time.

The device uses a stick-on transparent conductive polymer to quantify how big the bumps are and how long they last.

It works by recording a drop in the sensor's capacitance - its ability to store an electrical charge - caused by it being deformed by the buckling of the skin's surface.

The engineers say it could be used to study changes in people's emotions.

The work was carried out at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and details have been published in the Applied Physics Letters journal.

The article explains that the thin, flexible, square sensor, whose sides are about 2cm (0.8in) long, was tested on the arm of a subject who was asked to grab ice cubes to induce the reaction.

Although, by its nature, this involved a response to physical stimuli, the researchers noted that other scientists had previously shown that goosebumps could be used to deduce changes in a subject's emotional state brought on by music, movies and other causes.

Image copyright KAIST
Image caption The sensor was tested on the arm of a 28-year-old volunteer

"In the future, human emotions will be regarded like any typical biometric information, including body temperature or blood pressure," Prof Young Ho-cho told the journal.

Emotional triggers

Although more work needs to be done to correlate the measurements with specific emotional states, and only certain strong reactions might result in goosebumps, the journal still suggested the technology could ultimately be used to create kit to personalise adverts, music and other services based on the user's reactions.

Such an idea is not new.

At one time video games developer Valve experimented with developing a controller fitted with sensors to monitor players' physiological states, suggesting this could be used to change gameplay depending on whether it deduced they felt afraid, bored or engaged.

Film studios have long determined re-edits based on audience reactions to test screenings, and last year a UK-based movie-maker took the idea to its logical conclusion with Many Worlds - a film whose ending was determined by the brainwaves of a volunteer wearing a sensor-laden cap.

But one human-computer interaction expert expressed concern at the idea of a small, unobtrusive sensor being able to take such techniques mainstream.

"What perhaps I can see as the most cynical application of this is would be the maximisation of very pat emotional responses by the entertainment industry," said Dr Bernie Hogan, of the University of Oxford.

"They always want their products to give us these arousal responses. Now they can zero in on exactly the moment of the response and get rid of the messy details.

"This can only lead to more emotionally manipulative fluff."

One marketing consultant, however, proved more keen.

"This is the dream for many a modern marketeer who want people to not just buy product or a service but have an emotional engagement with their brand," said Simon Myers, a partner at Prophet.

"Whilst people might rightly be horrified at this development, there is one added benefit in that millions of dollars of advertising and communication spend could at last receive a proper customer-centric and very human audit."

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