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Biotech Science

Seeing With Your Skin? 138

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head dept.
Iddo Genuth writes to tell us that a researcher from Tel Aviv University is exploring the possibility that humans may be able to "see" via their skin. Professor Leonid Yaroslavsky hopes to utilize this possible technology to find solutions for the blind in addition to new types of image capture that might be able to work where conventional lenses fail. Unfortunately he has a long uphill battle ahead to convince others that his theories are possible. "The lenses currently used for optics-based imaging have many problems. They only work within a limited range of electromagnetic radiation. Relatively, these are still costly devices greatly limited by weight and field of view. The imaging Professor Yaroslavsky has in mind has no lenses and he believes the devices can be adapted to any kind of radiation and wavelength. They could essentially work with a 360-degree field of view and their imaging capability will only be determined by computer power rather than the laws of light diffraction."
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Seeing With Your Skin?

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  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday October 03, 2008 @05:33PM (#25251263) Homepage Journal
    The article doesn't say what the resolution is supposed to be. Most of us could detect a light globe a short distance behind us. Thats a kind of vision. Our skin reacts to infrared photons.

    My mother is a teacher and used to work with children who were totally deaf and blind. I was amazed to see how aware they could be of their surroundings, and how much they could learn, though all of their communication was based on touch.
  • by BWJones (18351) * on Friday October 03, 2008 @05:35PM (#25251291) Homepage Journal

    Argh, too many windows open on the desktop and I clicked submit accidentally before elaborating.

    My first concern is that this little "story" or press release has been either re-released or duplicated on various sources verbatim for weeks if not months and I've yet to see anything in the scientific literature about it. Publishing scientific progress in the popular press before peer review typically means bogus science to me.

    There certainly are photoreceptive skin cells in "lower" vertebrates and invertebrates that do transduce photosensitive information. However, any experiments I've seen in the literature or in popular press (or even weird Soviet 1960s "dermo optical" experiments that have attempted to evaluate "skin vision" in humans have failed or not accounted for temperature or other confounds.

  • by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Friday October 03, 2008 @05:47PM (#25251381) Journal
    Seriously anyone who has had a 2nd degree sunburn will tell you the burns sensitivity to light is amazing. I had a redhead friend who had a burn and he could tell when light was on his back while walking under trees, and even if you were passing your arm over it.

    That's probably how the eyes started, as a sensitive patch of skin. Sight would be a different interpretation of pain, with color being different degrees of pain.
  • by Psychotria (953670) on Friday October 03, 2008 @05:58PM (#25251487)

    Back then it was called "demo-optical perception."

    Citation needed. Oh wait [ntu.edu.tw].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @06:46PM (#25251827)

    More likely it would have been felt as something like heat, rather than pain. Intensity (temperature?) maps to brightness, not color. Color probably didn't come until something more eye-like had evolved - you wouldn't get color sensitivity from skin, only intensity/temperature. AFAIK color isn't as useful until after you have certain other things - light sensitivity first, to know if something's there. Then directionality, to know where. Then resolution, to know what is is. Color is an additional refinement of what. Recall that natural selection works in tiny tiny steps, and each step must be beneficial enough on its own to spread through the population.

  • Follow the money. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @06:58PM (#25251919)
    If you would like to see with your wallet, here is the donation page [aftau.org]. It's a press release of an organization that wants money. Does someone at Slashdot take money to pretend that these Tel Aviv University press releases are stories?
  • Sorry, misspelling. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EWAdams (953502) on Friday October 03, 2008 @07:01PM (#25251937) Homepage

    Meant to write "dermo-optical perception." As for citations, see Carl Sagan or Martin Gardner.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @07:05PM (#25251987)

    I recall a discussion about this in a cognitive science class I took about 3 years ago. Apparently, somebody developed an aparatus that was hooked to a person's back and used pins to provide a monochrome image of what a camera on the person's head was displaying. The interesting part was that they discovered that the visual part of the brain ended up being used to process the images. Eventually the person could see...sort of.

    Of course, this kind of trick won't work at all if the person is blind because of a brain problem rather than an eye problem. People who lose their sight overly early on in life will not necessarily develop their visual cortex enough for this type of technology to work. However, people who lose their eyes as adults or teens due to accidents will be fine.

  • Am I the only one... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jflo (1151079) on Friday October 03, 2008 @07:16PM (#25252077)
    Am I the only one in thinking that the ONLY logicial solution to helping the blind is for scientists to develope a Visor like Geordi Laforge had in ST:TNG... I mean seriously, Star Trek has called out almost every other obvious advancement, why not this one?
  • by Original Replica (908688) on Friday October 03, 2008 @07:24PM (#25252151) Journal
    I am having trouble jumping from this thought to the thought of the skin resolving those sensations into an image.

    As I understand it, that's more of a matter of the brain rewiring itself to interpret the signals coming from that patch of skin differently than any limitation of the nerves in the skin itself. [wikipedia.org] There is an interesting account of what this is like in an old Wired article [wired.com] around page 5 the author experiences a rather sudden shift as his brain learns to interpret visual signals differently.
  • by gravis777 (123605) on Friday October 03, 2008 @07:38PM (#25252243)

    Bear with me, I am thinking out loud here

    Very interesting theory. So, we all know that what we see, hear, whatever, is caused by different wavelengths. So, why is it that we can only see in one wavelength spectrum and hear in another? Hmmm. So, if there is a way to slightly shift those wavelengths that another sensory in the body can understand, I doubt you could "see", but, with proper training, I guess it would be possible to train that sense to make sense (no pun intended) of the data.

    Then again, I may be totally forgetting something, and this doesn't make any sense at all and I could just be spouting off BS.

    However, if this is possible, then this could be a different way of recording data from the world around us. I understand how the eye works, and I understand how a camera works. But, if we use something different than optics to record wavelengths in the visual spectrum, and use a computer program to interperate that data into something we could see.... Hmmm, its a longshot, but it sounds highly fascinating to me.

  • by Psychotria (953670) on Friday October 03, 2008 @08:13PM (#25252517)
    Radiant heat and reflection may also play a role. The list goes on. All this stuff needs to be eliminated or accounted for when you design your experiment. I am not disagreeing with you btw... just interested :-)
  • by Psychotria (953670) on Friday October 03, 2008 @08:27PM (#25252599)
    I cannot believe I am replying to this.

    a) Where did I say that I have an "education"?
    b) Why do you think that being sceptical is bad?
    c) If you think that by typing "skeptical" (mirroring the OP) was bad, then you miss the point.
    d) What did I say that sounded "elitist"?
    e) Where did I imply that all good scientists must think like me? (Apart from adhering to basic principles)

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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