Hackaday Prize Entry: A Sixth Sense

There’s far more going on in the environment that humans have the senses to detect. Birds migrate with the help of the Earth’s magnetic field, and certain species of fish can detect electrical fields. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Sebastian] is giving us a sixth sense. He’s building a device that allows anyone to detect the Earth’s magnetic field and find their way north for the summer.

The initial idea for [Sebastian]’s project came after his father’s inner ear was damaged. The doctor told him his brain needed to be trained to work with only one inner ear. If it works for balance, [Sebastian] wondered, why couldn’t the brain be trained to listen to an extra sensory input?

[Sebastian]’s device is an accelerometer and magnetometer, connected to a microcontroller that drives a few vibration motors. By mounting these motors around an ankle strap, [Sebastian] hopes to train his brain to listen to the magnetic fields.

So far, [Sebastian] has a device that can sense the Earth’s magnetic field and buzzes the motor closest to magnetic north. There’s still a lot of work to do, including filtering the magnetometer inputs, adding a ‘sleep’ mode, and putting Bluetooth functionality on board, but it’s already a very well-designed project.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

28 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: A Sixth Sense

    1. It’s detected by hairs coated in a mucus. When you tilt your head the mucus moves and tugs the hairs, generating an electrical signal. Not a sense of acceleration but a sense of balance. Humans experience acceleration as a collateral effect of that mucus hair matrix getting overloaded with input.

      1. It’s very much a sense of acceleration. That’s calculated by looking at the euler vector of body kinematics and gravity. In space, the rocks and mucus just float there until you change velocity. Remember, change in velocity is acceleration.

    1. I was also sure I had seen something like this before, but I believe they wore it about their ankle, same exact concept though.

      It’s interesting how many animals are sensitive to magnetic fields, yet we aren’t naturally.

  1. Half of me thinks that humans can do this anyway. I always seem to know which way is North and which way is home. This got really confused in Beijing though where North and home seemed to be the same direction which makes no sense as I live in the UK.

      1. I never considered that language can change they way you think even if i speak two languages. What I do know is that when you learn a new language you have to translate everything in your head but as you get more used to speaking in that language you begin to think in that language and don’t have to do the translating anymore.

    1. I used to think, “Gee, it would be neat to visit the Southern Hemisphere and see The Sun in the northern part of the sky”. Until I visited Rio de Janeiro and my mind automatically placed The Sun in the southern sky. Basically, I was “seeing” The Sun set in the east.

  2. I’ve just spent some time poking my ankle like an idiot, trying to work out the sensory resolution of the skin in that area, I was wondering how much information could be input in this way.

      1. Yes, I’m familiar with the concept, although as I understand it that is tested with pressure, rather than vibration. I understand that human skin is remarkably sensitive to vibrations, down to the scale of detecting nanometer scale imperfections in a surface when running the fingertips over things.

          1. @Whatnot: No one said anything about being afraid. It’s simply unnecessary in this case. Why include something that’s completely unnecessary in this diagram? Unless you’re a urologist or a 12 year old, you’ll never miss it.

          2. Scientific curiosity? I’m actually curious now what the two point separation sensitivity is near the groin, because there’s a difference between sensitivity for sexual arousal and the actual sensitivity in terms of that two point separation criteria I imagine.
            And after looking online I hear there is a separate ‘vibration sense’ and that has its own peaks and limitations:

            Pacinian corpuscles 60-400Hz; peak at 250 Hz
            Meissner’s corpuscles 5-300Hz; most sensitive at 20-50Hz

            This means the body is most sensitive to vibrations of around 250Hz

            Which seems relevant info

            Some links on the difference:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamellar_corpuscle (AKA Pacinian )

            So you need vibration motors that have a steady frequency of 250Hz and variable strength I guess. OR experiment with the 50Hz range to see if that works better.

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