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For more technology stories, visit newscientist.com/technology 2 February 2013 | NewScientist | 19 Muscle-zapper gives gamers another force to fight TALK about a hands-on gaming experience. A device for smartphones that sends jolts from a game right into the muscles in your hands has been created to give you a real white-knuckle feel for the action on your screen. Instead of using motors that drive the vibrating “rumblers” inside phones and game-console controllers, the new system uses two small wired electrodes attached to your forearm to electrically stimulate nerves, making your hand muscles contract. Developed by Pedro Lopes and colleagues at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, the feedback system uses electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to mimic the signals that the central nervous system sends to activate muscle groups. Such technology is often used to rehabilitate the muscles of people with varying degrees of paralysis. The new system creates a strong, painless contraction – in your palm flexor muscle, say – that makes you tilt the phone. “The user then fights that contraction using another muscle to oppose it, so they feel they are fighting a force,” Lopes says. In tests, 10 people played a specially designed video game – in which aircraft had to fight against a strong wind from a giant wind turbine – and compared the new technique with the smartphone’s conventional rumbler. “All of them preferred our mobile force-feedback over traditional vibrotactile feedback,” Lopes claims. Because the system has no motors, the researchers say the prototype will be easy to miniaturise and build into a simple add-on for a smartphone, tablet or portable console. And it uses far less power than traditional vibrating motors, he says, so it will not drain a device’s battery as quickly. Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has developed haptic touchscreens for tablets and phones. He notes that beyond medicine and muscle training, EMS has been mainly brought to the fore by artists like Daito Manabe of Japan, who used it to set his facial muscles twitching alarmingly to music. “As far as we know we’re the first to apply EMS to force-feedback in mobile gaming,” says Lopes. The system will be demonstrated at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, in April. Paul Marks n “It creates a strong, painless contraction – in your palm flexor muscle – that makes you fight your phone” Electrifying actionHASSO PLATTNER INSTITUTE Smartphone screen on your fingertips Forget the latest garish designs from the manicurist. The next fashion hit for your hands could be NailDisplay, which shows content from your smartphone or tablet on a tiny screen worn over your fingernails. Chao-Huai Su and colleagues at the National Taiwan University in Taipei say it could display a magnified view of the portion of a smartphone’s screen beneath your fingertip, making it easier to tap accurately on buttons like the ones shown on the phone’s virtual keypad. It could also control a music player by showing buttons or video on your nails, or display a photo of someone calling you on the phone. The team will present the idea at the CHI computer conference in Paris in April. Habla español via online translation Duolingo is a website set up to allow people to learn a language for free. They do this by translating web content in the unfamiliar language into one they know. Now there is evidence that the learning part of the challenge is working as hoped. To probe the site’s effectiveness, Roumen Vesselinov at the City University of New York used standard tests of language ability to assess almost 200 people who had learned Spanish on Duolingo for eight weeks. He found that the students needed an average of 34 hours to learn the equivalent of what is covered in the first semester of a university Spanish course. MIT hacked over net activist’s death A tribute to internet activist Aaron Swartz replaced the home page of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week in an act of protest over the university’s role in the legal case against him. Visitors to the MIT site found a message that read: “R.I.P. Aaron Swartz. Hacked by grand wizard of Lulzsec, Sabu. God Bless America. Down With Anonymous.” Swartz, who committed suicide on 11 January, was facing charges from the US government after downloading nearly five million journal articles from the university’s archive. ONE PER CENT KAYLEIGH O’CONNOR/SOLENT NEWS/REX FEATURES For breaking tech news go to: newscientist.com/onepercent

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For more technology stories, visit newscientist.com/technology

2 February 2013 | NewScientist | 19

Muscle-zapper gives gamers another force to fightTALK about a hands-on gaming experience. A device for smartphones that sends jolts from a game right into the muscles in your hands has been created to give you a real white-knuckle feel for the action on your screen.

Instead of using motors that drive the vibrating “rumblers” inside phones and game-console controllers, the new system uses two small wired electrodes attached to your forearm to electrically stimulate nerves, making your hand muscles contract.

Developed by Pedro Lopes and colleagues at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, the feedback system uses electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to mimic the signals that the central nervous system sends to activate muscle groups. Such technology is often used to rehabilitate the muscles of people with varying degrees of paralysis.

The new system creates a strong, painless contraction – in your palm flexor muscle, say – that makes you tilt the phone. “The user then fights that contraction using another muscle to oppose it, so they feel they are fighting a force,” Lopes says.

In tests, 10 people played a specially designed video game – in which aircraft had to fight against a strong wind from a giant wind turbine – and compared the new

technique with the smartphone’s conventional rumbler. “All of them preferred our mobile force-feedback over traditional vibrotactile feedback,” Lopes claims.

Because the system has no motors, the researchers say the prototype will be easy to miniaturise and build into a simple add-on for a smartphone, tablet or portable console. And it uses far less power

than traditional vibrating motors, he says, so it will not drain a device’s battery as quickly.

Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has developed haptic touchscreens for tablets and phones. He notes that beyond medicine and muscle training, EMS has been mainly brought to the fore by artists like Daito Manabe of Japan, who used it to set his facial muscles twitching alarmingly to music.

“As far as we know we’re the first to apply EMS to force-feedback in mobile gaming,” says Lopes. The system will be demonstrated at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, in April. Paul Marks n

“It creates a strong, painless contraction – in your palm flexor muscle – that makes you fight your phone”

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Smartphone screen on your fingertipsForget the latest garish designs from the manicurist. The next fashion hit for your hands could be NailDisplay, which shows content from your smartphone or tablet on a tiny screen worn over your fingernails. Chao-Huai Su and colleagues at the National Taiwan University in Taipei say it could display a magnified view of the portion of a smartphone’s screen beneath your fingertip, making it easier to tap accurately on buttons like the ones shown on the phone’s virtual keypad. It could also control a music player by showing buttons or video on your nails, or display a photo of someone calling you on the phone. The team will present the idea at the CHI computer conference in Paris in April.

Habla español via online translationDuolingo is a website set up to allow people to learn a language for free. They do this by translating web content in the unfamiliar language into one they know. Now there is evidence that the learning part of the challenge is working as hoped. To probe the site’s effectiveness, Roumen Vesselinov at the City University of New York used standard tests of language ability to assess almost 200 people who had learned Spanish on Duolingo for eight weeks. He found that the students needed an average of 34 hours to learn the equivalent of what is covered in the first semester of a university Spanish course.

MIT hacked over net activist’s deathA tribute to internet activist Aaron Swartz replaced the home page of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week in an act of protest over the university’s role in the legal case against him. Visitors to the MIT site found a message that read: “R.I.P. Aaron Swartz. Hacked by grand wizard of Lulzsec, Sabu. God Bless America. Down With Anonymous.” Swartz, who committed suicide on 11 January, was facing charges from the US government after downloading nearly five million journal articles from the university’s archive.

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For breaking tech news go to: newscientist.com/onepercent

130202_N_Tech_Spread.indd 19 28/1/13 18:05:31