Ishin-Den-Shin system plays spoken messages through your finger


October 1, 2013

Ishin-Den-Shin lets a person hear a recorded spoken message through a finger (Photo: Disney Research)

Ishin-Den-Shin lets a person hear a recorded spoken message through a finger (Photo: Disney Research)

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Forget using tape recorders and smartphones to play back spoken messages – what if you could simply hear them through a finger? Disney researcher Ivan Poupyrev has come up with a system that allows for just that. Using the human body as a sound transmitter, the technology lets you hear audio messages when someone touches your ear with their finger. Even more strikingly, it also lets you hear those spoken messages off the surface of any ordinary object you might touch, like a knife or a ring.

The system uses a very different principle from the wearable FingerWhisper device we looked at a while back, that lets users hear a phone conversation through their bones by sticking a finger in their ear. Poupyrev calls his system Ishin-Den-Shin, after a Japanese phrase that roughly translates as "what the mind thinks, the heart transmits."

The technology employs a handheld microphone connected to a computer that begins recording as soon as it hears the person speak. The computer transforms the recording into a sound loop which is further converted into a harmless high-voltage (but, crucially, low-current) inaudible signal that's transmitted to the microphone's conductive casing.

The person holding the microphone becomes a human sound emitter, as the low-power recorded sound creates a modulated electrostatic field around them. When they touch an object or another person's ear with their finger, the finger along with the ear or object forms a speaker allowing the small sound vibrations to be heard. The person being touched hears the message in their ear.

Poupyrev, who has been exploring the idea of using the human body as both an interface and a data transmitter, likens the technology to a form of physical telepathy. He says that the project grew out of two earlier ones: Teslatouch, a tactile touchscreen display that lets users feel virtual elements (for example, feeling objects snap into place on screen) and Revel, a wearable device that adds artificial tactile sensations to everyday objects when touched (imagine feeling the texture of grass on a nature-based wall painting, for instance).

"We observed that it could work on human skin, and started wandering if we could enhance human-to-human communication somehow," Poupyrev tells Gizmag. Once started on Ishin-Den-Shin, the team built it up within a few months.

Poupyrev, who has been attempting to blend physical and digital worlds seamlessly through numerous projects, says his vision for Ishin-Den-Shin involves transforming everyday objects into interactive sound devices. The surface touched needs to be able to vibrate, and some work better than others, he says. "It is important that person’s hands are really dry," Poupyrev tells us. "The object has to have a thin layer of dialectric on top for this to work."

The signal you hear in your ear isn't very loud, he adds. It's also possible for the sound to transmit itself through three or four people as long as their bodies are in contact with each other. For example, the third person in a line can touch their finger to the fourth person's ear, letting them hear a message, if the rest are holding hands as the first person speaks into the microphone. "The electrical field goes though the peoples' bodies," Poupyrev tells Gizmag. "The signal degrades after three or four people."

Poupyrev declined to discuss possible applications for the technology or how and when we might see it in the future. Olivier Bau and Yuri Suzuki were also part of the Pittsburgh-based Disney Research team that developed Ishin-Den-Shin. The project won an Honorary Mention at ARS Electronica’s PRIX ARS 2013 at Linz, Austria.

Check out a video of Ishin-Den-Shin below.

Source: Disney Research via New Scientist

About the Author
Lakshmi Sandhana When Lakshmi first encountered pig's wings in a petri dish, she realized that writing about scientists and imagineers was the perfect way to live in an expanding mind bubble. Articles for Wired, BBC Online, New Scientist, The Economist and Fast Company soon followed. She's currently pursuing her dream of traveling from country to country to not only ferret out cool stories but also indulge outrageously in local street foods. When not working, you'll find her either buried nose deep in a fantasy novel or trying her hand at improvisational comedy. All articles by Lakshmi Sandhana

Yuck! It's bad enough trying to get out of some public washrooms without touching handles, (I've seen several men come out of stall and leave without even washing their hands), now they want to have people touching each others ears?

I'd pass on that, can't they just focus on Bluetooth ease of transferability apps for such things and have people keep their hands to theirselves.


So many thinks this technology can be used for, but you put it in a microphone-game of speaking and repeating. Useless.

Joost de Nijs

Interesting if not useless. One idea though, can't the "transmitter" of the message hold the "hearer" of the message's arm (or similar) and the "hearer" put his own finger in his ear for hygiene's sake?


The perfect application would be for people with hearing problems such as information booths in noisy places or in a theater to replace wireless headphones. Also it would enable people to hear a phone message without a headphone or microphone in their ear or privately without using a speakerphone.

Facebook User

Cos everyone likes being poked on the head...

Gerard Gallagher

I don't know where that finger has been!!! Does a "wet willy" make it sound like you're underwater? LOL


Terrifying to think of messages coming from everything you touch while shopping at Walmart. Or making people think they're psychotic because they keep hearing voices from things talking to them…. The repercussions of this tech are very scary...


Great! Does it have to be a finger? If not then that means one should be able to transmit theme music while being poked by some other extremity. That would be entertaining...and weird at the same time.


Real DIGITal music...

Doyle Dowd

Monty Python skit, A man with a tape recorder up his nose.

Nose, ear. They're both on the head.

Gregg Eshelman

NO no! you got it all wrong. It's for spies. Think a mailbox on a corner set to transmit a message at a certain time each day. Spy comes up touches the mailbox, puts a finger in his ear and gets the info. Nobody will suspect a thing...... HAHA


Actually it is a reinvention, many people who have serviced electrostatic speakers ( have done this trick. Some have even used EHV to make gas flames and Tesla coils act as speakers.


Nothing new - I remember taking a biofeedback class at the University of Colorado way back in 1988 and the class touching each other and hearing the tone of the biofeedback measuring skin resistance - we had more than 3 people and could make the tone change as the resistance changed - simple resistive tone modulator. It was fun, strange and cool and the wetter our skin the better or stronger the signal (unlike this device) and it could be anywhere - not just the ear. But there will probably be 10 patents issued to Disney for this.

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