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Disney develops 'magical' device to make fingertips sing

By Joe Miller
BBC News

media captionDisney demonstrates its new Ishin-Den-Shin audio system

Disney has developed a device to transmit sound through the human body.

The Ishin-Den-Shin technology uses a standard microphone to record audio and then converts it into an inaudible signal transmitted through the body of the person holding the microphone.

When they touch someone's earlobe, an organic speaker is formed and the sound becomes audible, effectively whispering a message into that person's ear.

The sound can be passed from person to person using any physical contact.

The technology, revealed by the New Scientist, was developed at Disney Research in Pittsburgh and received an honorary mention at this week's Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria.

Small vibrations

It records sounds through a device fitted to the microphone that creates a "modulated electrostatic field" around the user's skin.

"When touching another person's ear, this modulated electrostatic field creates a very small vibration of the earlobe," Disney Research says on its website.

"As a result, both the finger and the ear together form a speaker, that makes the signal audible for the person touched.

"The inaudible signal can be transmitted from body to body, using any sort of physical contact."

The recorded sound can be heard only by the specific ear touched.

image captionThe body of the microphone holder transmits a high amplitude, low power inaudible electrical signal

'Almost magical'

The use of bodies to conduct sound has been on the increase.

Bone conduction, a technology that transmits sound through to the inner ear through bones of the skull, is used in Google's Glass, and in some high-spec headphones.

"You can of course transmit signals through the body because it can conduct electricity," said Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford, "but I don't know quite what they are going to do with this."

He added that the technology would be "almost magical and appear to come from nowhere".

Ishin-Den-Shin is a Japanese mantra that translates as, "What the mind thinks, the heart transmits," and represents unspoken mutual understanding.

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