Wearable Tech World Feature Article
August 26, 2015

Microsoft Patent Uses Electric Shock for Email Notification

Anyone who's ever been in the middle of a meeting and missed a phone's vibration-based notice of an incoming text or email may find some use for this electrifying, new innovation. A Microsoft patent will deliver “electrical stimuli to the skin of a user.” While that might sound like some kind of modern-day Milgram Experiment gone horribly wrong, it could be just what some were hoping for.

The new Microsoft patent describes how the electrical stimuli is being applied in order to “ . . . convey information to the user.” No, that's not describing some kind of remote neural uplink; rather it's talking about a kind of short shock to the user that denotes a particular event has taken place. That's quite a step up from current operations, where users get a vibratory jolt or a sound cue or even both at once.

Microsoft reportedly also noted that the technology could be incorporated into “bigger” items of wearable technology, from socks to even shirts. Such technology would deliver shocks to the wearer when it was clear that physical positioning needed to be changed, as well as deliver those electric shocks about incoming notifications or other events. One of the biggest advantages of such a system is that, reportedly, it would allow notifications to be delivered without the use of a display system. That could make devices incredibly small yet still able to deliver.

Of course, the biggest problem with this will be overcoming the idea that Microsoft wants people to wear clothing that delivers an electrical shock whenever a text message arrives or an email lands. It's going to take some truly impressive marketing efforts to actually get people interested in the idea that wearing clothes that will pump voltage directly into their bodies. For most people, avoiding an electrical shock is generally the order of the day. Said marketing will have to overcome people's inherent fear of exposed voltage, generated by years of power company advertising about avoiding downed power lines. Certainly, the ability to shrink devices down is a plus, and the idea of haptic feedback—which depends mainly on touch—isn't exactly new or unused. Skype was just seen putting it to use not long ago, and this could be an extension of that.

Could it work? It's entirely possible; people have grown so accustomed to vibrations and sound cues that, unless run together, either individually may be easily missed. An electrical shock might just be the wake-up call some need to better focus. It's also worth noting that patents don't have to see the light of day; there are enough Apple patents that have yet to go anywhere to make that point clear. But Microsoft may well have a new and unique direction to take in wearable technology, and maybe it's a step worth following.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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