Peripheral Touch LabARynth

“The boundary between physical and nonphysical is very imprecise for us,” so writes Donna Haraway in her Cyborg Manifesto.

What does a mundane cyborg look like? What would be the most interesting, but least difficult augmentation we could actually make for ourselves? In this project we have extended our sense of touch outside the limits of our bodies, by attaching distance sensors and tiny little buzzers to ourselves. Once we had done that we went out into Copenhagen to see if we could become one with our new senses.
Touch is one of the most personal senses, it can’t be shared in the same way sight or sound can, so extending touch feels like an extension of yourself. We had sensors on our knees to stop us from banging in to coffee tables, a sensor on our back so we knew when people we approaching, and a sensor on our hands for the fun of it.

Inspired by this experience, we started asking ourselves “What would Spidey Senses feel like?” – the instinctual senses that SpiderMan uses to sense imminent danger.

LabARynth was a branch of the experiments created during the Peripheral Touch project to explore “Spidey Senses”.

LabARynth is an invisible maze, navigable only through vibrations felt on your palm. It recontextualizes the sense of touch by allowing us to “see” what is not there. The idea arose as we imagined in an AR future, and the idea of making AR objects part of conventional reality, not something that you have to take your phone out to experience.

Initially we tried blowing air, and making sounds to guide someone around obstacles, but found that manually operating a simple buzzer was the most effective. This buzzer travelled all over our body, neck, to hands, to legs, and at one point there were even 4 buzzers, but this felt a little excessive. One of the most effective was giving someone a ‘tingle down their spine’, and having them turn around just in time to catch a ball that had been thrown at them. The ability to ‘feel’ where a door ISN’T was compelling, and we wondered whether we could transfer the same experience to people who could see, which was how we landed on the concept of LabARynth.