The last 50 years or so has seen great optimism concerning the potential of sensory substitution and augmentation devices to enhance the lives of those with (or even those without) some form of sensory loss (in practice, this has typically meant those who are blind or suffering from low vision). One commonly discussed solution for those individuals who are blind has been to use one of a range of tactile–visual sensory substitution systems that represent objects captured by a camera as outline images on the skin surface in real-time (what Loomis, Klatzky and Giudice, 2012, term general-purpose sensory substitution devices). However, despite the fact that touch, like vision, initially codes information spatiotopically, I would like to argue that a number of fundamental perceptual, attentional, and cognitive limitations constraining the processing of tactile information mean that the skin surface is unlikely ever to provide such general-purpose sensory substitution capabilities. At present, there is little evidence to suggest that the extensive cortical plasticity that has been demonstrated in those who have lost (or never had) a sense can do much to overcome the limitations associated with trying to perceive high rates of spatiotemporally varying information presented via the skin surface (no matter whether that surface be the back, stomach, forehead, or tongue). Instead, the use of the skin will likely be restricted to various special-purpose devices that enable specific activities such as navigation, the control of locomotion, pattern perception, etc.
AbramsM.WintersD. (2003). Can you see with your tongue? The brain is so adaptable some researchers now think that any of the five senses can be rewired Discover 6th Jan. available from http://discovermagazine.com/2003/jun/feattongue (accessed 27 June 2014).
AitkinL. M. (1976).
Tonotopic organisation at higher levels of the auditory pathway in:
International Reviews of Physiology Neurophysiology IIIVol. 10PorterR. (Ed.) pp.
249–279. University Park PressBaltimore, MD, USA.
AlliusiE. A. (1960). On optimizing cutaneous communication: a respectful supplement to some adventures in tactile literacy in: Symposium on Cutaneous Sensitivity G. R. Hawkes (Ed.) pp. 39–45. U.S. Army Med. Res. Lab. Rep. No. 424.
AlsmithA. J. T.LongoM. R. (2014).
Where exactly am I? Self-location judgements distribute between head and torsoConscious. Cogn.2470–74.
BieverC. (2005). The touchy-feely side of telecoms New Scientist 27th Feb. available from http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7049-the-touchyfeely-side-of-telecoms.html#.Uqxr8UxFB9A (accessed 27 June 2014).
CholewiakR. W.CraigJ. C. (1984).
Vibrotactile pattern recognition and discrimination at several body sitesPercept. Psychophys.35503–514.
GallaceA.NgoM. K.SulaitisJ.SpenceC. (2012).
Multisensory presence in virtual reality: possibilities and limitations in:
Multiple Sensorial Media Advances and Applications: New Developments in MulSeMediaGhineaG.AndresF.GulliverS. (Eds) pp.
1–40. IGI GlobalHershey, PA, USA.
GouldW. R.VierckC. J.LuckM. M. (1979).
Cues supporting recognition of the orientation or direction of movement of tactile stimuli in:
Sensory Functions of the Skin of HumansKenshaloD. R. (Ed.) pp.
63–78. Plenum PressNew York, NY, USA.
LoomisJ. M.KlatzkyR. L.GiudiceN. A. (2012).
Sensory substitution of vision: importance of perceptual and cognitive processing in:
Assistive Technology for Blindness and Low VisionManduchiR.KurniawanS. (Eds) pp.
162–191. CRC PressBoca Raton, FL, USA.
LukJ.PasqueroJ.LittleS.MacLeanK.LévesqueV.HaywardV. (2006). A role for haptics in mobile interaction: initial design using a handheld tactile display prototype in: Proc. ACM Conf. Hum. Fact. Comput. Syst. (CHI ’06) CHI Lett.8 no. 1 Montreal Canada pp. 171–180.
Gadgets get the feel of the tactile worldNew Sci.256027.
Compensatory plasticity as a consequence of sensory loss in:
The Handbook of Multisensory ProcessesCalvertG. A.SpenceC.SteinB. E. (Eds) pp.
719–747. MIT PressCambridge, MA, USA.
Perceptual compensation in the deaf and blind: myth or reality? in:
Compensating for Psychological Deficits and Declines: Managing Losses and Promoting GainsDixonR. A.BäckmanL. (Eds) pp.
251–274. Lawrence ErlbaumMahwah, NJ, USA.
SerenoM. I.DaleA. M.ReppasJ. B.KwongK. K.BelliveauJ. W.BradyT. J.RosenB. R.TootellR. B. H. (1995).
Borders of multiple visual areas in humans revealed by functional magnetic resonance imagingScience268889–893.
Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying plastic changes and rehabilitation following sensory loss in blindness and deafness in:
Frontiers in the Neural Bases of Multisensory ProcessesMurrayM. M.WallaceM. (Eds) pp.
395–422. CRC PressBoca Raton, FL, USA.
Intensive and extensive aspects of tactile sensitivity as a function of body part, sex, and laterality in:
The Skin SensesKenshaloD. R. (Ed.) pp.
195–222. ThomasSpringfield, IL, USA.
YanagidaY.KakitaM.LindemanR. W.KumeY.TetsutaniN. (2004). Vibrotactile letter reading using a low-resolution tactor array in: Proc. 12th Int. Symp. Haptic Interfacs Virt. Env. Teleoperator Syst. Chicago IL USA pp. 400–406.