Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge: Mimi Switch to Control Devices by Facial Expression

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Ever wish you could control your iPod with just a thought? Or maybe turn on the lights with a raised eyebrow, or queue up your favorite episodes of I Love Lucy with just a smile? Japanese inventor Kazuhiro Taniguchi or Osaka University may have just the thing for you with the “Mimi Switch” or “Ear Switch,” which uses infrared sensors in a set of earbuds to measure tiny movements inside the ear associated with facial expressions, and translate those into commands that could be used to control almost any device: iPods, stereos, televisions, or even computers.

Just don’t yawn. Or sneeze.

According to Taniguchi, tghe device can be used to control an iPod; for instance, opening both eyes wide can skip to the next track, while wink with the right eye browses backwards through a queue. Stick out your tongue, and music starts or stops. Taniguchi envisisions the device being used to control a wide variety of devices, from personal media players to home lighting and appliances—which could have obvious applications not only for consumers but for people with physical disabilities.

Taniguchi also envisions the device learning user’s individual expressions and motions associated with particular activities, and perhaps being used to monitor their status. For instance, if a user starts frequently coughing or sneezing, a Mimi Switch-controlled device might send a message to a nurse or on-site caregiver.

Or, perhaps, if a user is bobbing their head a little too much to their music after 9PM, a system might switch over to some snooze-inducing smooth jazz.

Taniguchi says he’s working to patent the device in Japan and overseas and is working on a wireless version of the device. He hopes devices using the technology might reach consumers in 2011 or 2012.