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SpiderSense suit delivers superhuman perception


March 11, 2013

Using a collection of sensors placed all over the body, the SpiderSense suit detects objects in the environment and warns the wearer when anything gets too close (Photo Credit: Lance Long, EVL)

Using a collection of sensors placed all over the body, the SpiderSense suit detects objects in the environment and warns the wearer when anything gets too close (Photo Credit: Lance Long, EVL)

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In the Spider-Man comics and movies, the famous hero's "Spider Sense" warns him of incoming danger, which proves to be just as important a superpower as slinging webs and climbing walls. Now a group of researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago may have found a way to replicate such superhuman perception that doesn't involve any radioactive spiders. Using a collection of sensors placed all over the body, the group has designed a "SpiderSense" suit that detects objects in the environment and warns the wearer when anything gets too close.

With a tongue-in-cheek name like "SpiderSense," the suit might conjure images of someone clad in spandex dodging attacks from a supervillain, but the designers have some applications in mind that are more grounded in reality. Aside from the clear advantage it could give to visually or hearing impaired users, the sensors could help in other situations that might need the extra spatial awareness (like firemen navigating smoke-filled rooms or cyclists riding on busy roads).

SpiderSense consists of thirteen sensor modules placed on various parts of the body – arms, legs, chest, back, forehead, etc. – and connected to a controller box with 10-pin ribbon cables. Each module contains an ultrasonic distance sensor that detects objects up to about 17 feet (approx. 5 meters) and a rotary servomotor connected to a pressure arm.

Much like radar, the sensors send pulses and then listen for the reflections, while the controller box ensures there is no interference between the various sensors. Once a module detects an object, the servomotor rotates the attached arm to press onto the wearer's body with the pressure increasing as the object gets closer.

The suit was created by a team consisting of Victor Mateevitsi, Brad Haggadone, Jason Leigh, Robert Kenyon, and Brian Kunzer, all of whom also authored a research paper on the development of the SpiderSense. Mateevitsi presented the suit just last week at the 4th Augmented Human International Conference in Stuttgart, Germany.

The researchers also tested out the SpiderSense by blindfolding some volunteers and having them perform a few simple tasks like walking down a busy walkway and throwing cardboard ninja stars at certain targets. The test subjects had no trouble walking down hallways and detecting obstacles, but they did have some difficulty navigating through library bookshelves.

It's still a rough concept, but it's not hard to see how a set of wearable motion sensors could benefit a wide range of users. Even replacing the modules with different components (e.g. radiation sensors) opens the idea up to all sorts of safety uses. In the future, the team plans to test the SpiderSense with the visually impaired, fine tune the suit's detection range, and explore connecting the sensors wirelessly via Bluetooth.

Source: UIC via Victor Mateevitsi

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things. All articles by Jonathan Fincher

It seems that humans have always had a low level ability to detect their surroundings. It seems - in my experience at least to be some sort of ability to sense a change in air pressure combined with an ability to detect a change in how sound ...uhh...sounds.

Walking down a hallway in pitch black darkness, you can "feel" that you're getting close to a wall. It is as if the air seems heavier. On the hearing part, it is like the that muffled quiet you feel during a snowfall.

I've often wondered if these senses could be hightened or modified to be made more acute.

Joseph Boe

I could definitely see this being useful to the blind

Racqia Dvorak

For superheroes, it's not the presence of an object that's a danger, but an object coming in at an collision trajectory that deserves a warning. The controller package should calculate over several measurements if an obstacle is getting closer towards you. Then the library bookshelves won't be a problem.

Joshua Fan

good for some uses. spindeyman adventures are not one. tooslow..which brings us to my other reply thread...@ joe boe. there is a natural way known to martisl arts. it does not rely on pressure of air (which is an easy one to sharpen) or whatever causesyou to stop before the branch cuts you at night in the woods...it is based on the now investigated by science facts about what the brain does before you move. intention can be monitored from sensors on the heads surface. a yes or a no repky can be determined before the answerer is himself "aware" what he will say. martial artists might take on a dozen opponents in the dark by relying on field sensing capabilities and the innate capabilities can be honned by propper training.


"Use the Force, Luke!" ;-)

My roboticized self-driving car will DEFINITELY need this!

Gerard Wenham

Ideal for the blind, physically disabled,Spec Forces, PD SWAT force, Joe PI? Gaming Live, COSPlay use?, PR Spiderman movies??, For Rescue IE PM night role. Home security with access to pistol, Mace, pepper spray??

Stephen Russell

after refining this suit, send me one. it's just too awesome not to have.

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