Fish fear

I’m speechless

A few students at MIT have assembled what is likely a world’s first: A urinal equipped with piezoelectric sensors. It turns the urinal into a type of computer track-pad, allowing you to use your stream of urine to control the mouse on the screen — and play a video game with it.

As I am so often forced to remind readers, I’m not making this stuff up — and I can prove it, by pointing you to a rather mind-blowing video demonstrating this thing in action. The research effort is called, by the way, “The You’re In Control” Project. For more fun, check out the PDF of the paper written about this, from which I quote:

While urination fulfills a basic bodily function, it is also an activity rich with social significance. Along with the refreshing release it provides, the act of micturition satisfies a primal urge to mark our territory. For women who visit the bathroom in groups and chat in neighboring stalls, urination can be a bonding ritual. For men who write their names in the snow, extinguish cigarettes, or congregate around lampposts to urinate, urination can be a test of skill and a way of asserting masculinity.

The You’re in Control project is an effort to enchance the act of urination using computational technology. We believe that adding interactivity to urination has valuable applications to recreation, sanitation, and education …

We programmed a custom interactive game in C++ on the Windows 2000 operating system. Our software reads the state of the sensor array from the microcontroller over a serial data link at a rate of 100 samples per second. The game we chose was a variant of Whack-A-Mole, a classic carnival game. Users aim at a series of jumping hamsters, with input position on the urinal corresponding to target position on the screen above. A successful hit turns a hamster yellow, makes it scream and spin out of control, and rewards the player with ten points. The parabolic trajectories of the hamsters conceal the grid-like arrangement of sensors, resulting in a fluid transition between input and output.

By the way, in that image above, your eyes are not fooling you: That’s a woman playing the game. To make this thing egalitarian, the students created a fake penis attached to two water bottles that you stuff down your pants, to let you play the game with anatomical verisimilitude.

Man, the brain I had before I watched that video? I’m never gonna get that brain back.

Given the total deadpan tone in this academic paper, it is possible that this is another of MIT’s famous student hacks and pranks, and not an actual academic project. But then again, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.

(Thanks to El Rey for pointing me to this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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