Stick tongue out, wink: gadget introduces new ways to control iPods

A woman wears the Mimi Switch earphone-shaped device to operate electronic devices such as a digital music player. An iPod can start or stop music when the wearer sticks her tongue out, like in the famous Einstein picture, researchers said

A wink, a smile or a raised eyebrow could soon change the music on your iPod or start up the washing machine, thanks to a new Japanese gadget.

The gizmo – called the “Mimi Switch” or “Ear Switch” – looks like a normal set of headphones, but is fitted with a set of infrared sensors that measure tiny movements inside the ear that result from different facial expressions.

The device is connected to a micro-computer that can control electronic devices, essentially making it a hands-free remote control for anything.

“You will be able to turn on room lights or swing your washing machine into action with a quick twitch of your mouth,” said inventor Kazuhiro Taniguch of Osaka University.

“An iPod can start or stop music when the wearer sticks his tongue out, like in the famous Einstein picture. If he opens his eyes wide, the machine skips to the next tune. A wink with the right eye makes it go back,” he explained.

As for the washing machine: “It can be programmed to run with various other facial expressions, such as a wriggle of the nose or a smile,” he added.

The Mimi Switch could also store and interpret data and get to know its user, Taniguchi said: “It monitors natural movements of the face in everyday life and accumulates data. If it judges that you aren’t smiling enough, it may play a cheerful song.”

The device could also have more serious applications to make people’s lives safer and easier.

“If the system is mounted on a hearing aid for elderly people, it could tell how often they sneeze or whether they are eating regularly,” Taniguchi pointed out.

“If it believes they are not well, it could send a warning message to relatives,” he added.

It could also be used by physically disabled people as a remote control for appliances, such as computers and air conditioners.

Taniguchi, who is now working on a wireless version, said the Mimi Switch could be available in two or three years.

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