Compass sense

Northpaw compass anklet

North Paw compass anklet is a transhumanist hack to augment your sense of direction.

A North Paw is an anklet that tells the wearer which way is North. The anklet holds eight cellphone vibrator motors around your ankle. A control unit senses magnetic north and turns on and off the motors. At any given time only one motor is on and this motor is the closest to North. The skin senses the vibration, and the wearer’s brain learns to associate the vibration with direction, giving the wearer an intuitive sense of which way is North. Most people “get it” mere seconds after putting it on, and can then reliably point north when asked.

What makes it way more awesome than a regular compass? Persistence. With a regular compass the owner only knows the direction when he or she checks it. With this compass, the information enters the wearer’s brain at a subconscious level, giving the wearer a true feeling of absolute direction, rather than an intellectual knowledge as with a regular compass.

Because of the plasticity of the brain, it has been shown that most wearers gain a new sense of absolute direction, giving them a superhuman ability to navigate their surroundings. The original idea for North Paw comes from research done at University of Osnabrück in Germany. In this study, rather than an anklet, the researchers used a belt. They wore the belt non-stop for six weeks, and reported successive stages of integration.

I can imagine this being squeezed into a discrete little anklet on the order of a rubber band.

As a Google Glass app this would still be useful, but not as much. As the blurb says, it would be "an intellectual knowledge as with a regular compass."

The difference is in the very unusual form factor - a band around your ankle whose only output channel is where on your body it is vibrating. As you rotate in one direction the location of the vibration rotates in the opposite direction. You'd stop paying conscious attention to this pretty quickly, leaving you with a strange new "compass" sense.

Compass sense already exists in nature - it is called biomagnetism. This works by having cell-sized chains of magnetite, the stuff that makes compasses work. Magnetite has also been found in animals that navigate by compass direction, such as bees, birds, and fish.

magnetite chains in the brain
Single Magnetite Crystal in the Human Brain

We should (but don't) have this sense already, because humans have magnetite chains as well:

Magnetite has also been found in animals that navigate by compass direction, such as bees, birds, and fish, but scientists do not know why the magnetite is present in humans, only that it is there.

It’s not just birds, bees, and fish, but also ancient Martians.

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One Response to “Compass sense”

  1. Sensory augmentation roundup — Lucas Gonze's blog

    [...] Compass sense [...]

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