Disney Listening Device Turns Fingertip Into Human Microphone: How Does ‘Ishin-Den-Shin’ Work?

By Philip Ross on September 12, 2013 11:59 AM EDT

disney device
A Disney listening device allows a person to use their body like a human microphone. (Photo: Flickr/davidchief)

It's rude to point, unless you're using that finger (no, not that finger) to communicate. Engineers at Disney Research, a lab in Pittsburgh, Pa. owned by Walt Disney Company, have developed a new communication device that turns human fingertips into tiny microphones. All you need is two people, Disney's microphone device, a few digits and some good old fashioned Disney magic.

Disney engineers call the device, which looks a lot like a vintage microphone, "Ishin-Den-Shin." The name comes from a Japanese expression, ishen-denshin, which denotes the concept of interpersonal communication through tacit understanding.

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Its literal translation is, "What the mind thinks, the heart transmits." In English, it might be called "telepathy" or "sympathy."

How does Disney's human listening device work? According to a description on the Disney Research website, one person speaks into the microphone. A computer then amplifies and filters the sound waves and turns them into a high-amplitude, low-power electrical signal.

While still holding the microphone, the person then puts their finger to someone else's ear. The listener can then hear the person's message, as if the finger is whispering it to them.

More specifically, when the device converts someone's voice, it creates a "modulated electrostatic field" around the user's skin. When they touch someone else, the electrostatic field causes a very small vibration of the person's earlobe. Together, the ear and finger form a speaker. Voila! Disney magic at its finest.

Not only can one person pass on a message to another person; multiple people can pass along a message simply by putting part of their body to the other person's ear and so on.

The device gained international attention and received honorary mention at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria.

Using the body as a conductor of sound is a pretty novel idea, but it's not unheard of. As The BBC notes, bone conduction, a technology that uses bones in the skull to transmit sounds through the inner ear, has been used before. Some high-spec headphones use it; even Google's Glass employs the technology in its coveted frames.

"You can of course transmit signals through the body because it can conduct electricity,"Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford, told The BBC. "But I don't know quite what they are going to do with this."

To see video of Disney's "Ishin-Den-Shin" device in action, click here.

Read more from iScience Times:

Sinkhole Disney World: 60-Foot Hole In Florida Swallows Part of Resort [VIDEO]

Baby Einstein Recall: Why Is Walt Disney Co. Recalling 400,000 Of Its Infant Jumper Toys? [REPORT]

Disneyland Explosion: Dry Ice Bomb In Trash Can Cause Evacuation In Anaheim [VIDEO]

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