Sep. 16, 2013 at 3:28 PM ET
A team at Disney Research has created a novel way to tell someone a secret: pass it from your body to theirs electrically, using your finger and their ear as the speaker. They call it "Ishin-Den-Shin," after a Japanese concept of "unspoken understanding."
With Ishin-Den-Shin, one person first records their message into a microphone. By touching another person on their earlobe, the second person can hear that recording. But it doesn't work like those bone-conduction earpieces — this is something different.
The recording from the microphone is fed through a special amplifier that converts it into "high amplitude, low power" electrical pulses, little shocks. Because these pulses are low power, they can't really shock anyone, yet their amplitude is big enough to be modulated and carry a signal.
From the amplifier, the electrical signal is conducted to the user's body by a wire attached to the microphone itself. When the user touches the second person's ear, the signal is transmitted to the person through their skin. The current creates a slight vibration as its amplitude goes up and down, those vibrations travel into the ear, and the sound is heard.
Though you need to touch near the ear for the message to be heard, the signal itself can pass from one person to the next via any kind of contact, and can even be conducted through multiple people. You could hold hands with a few others in a line and have the last person touch someone else's ear — the sound should come through just fine.
Apparently the sensation at the receiving end is a bit tickly, and not everyone likes the idea of electrical currents passing through their body. Of course, you can always just whisper.
Ishin-Den-Shin was created at Disney Research Pittsburgh by Yuri Suzuki, Olivier Bau, and Ivan Poupyrev.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.