Proprioception is the sense though which we perceive the position and movement of our body, including our sense of equilibrium and balance, senses that depend on the notion of force (Jones, 2000). Proprioception is defined as the conscious or unconscious awareness of joint position, whereas neuromuscular control is the efferent motor response to afferent (sensory) information. Proprioception has been described as a specialised variation of touch encompassing the sensations of both joint movement and joint position (Lephart and Fu, 1995). Practically, it is the ability of the body to use position sense and respond (consciously or unconsciously) to stresses imposed on the body by altering posture and movement (Houglum, 2001). Proprioception, interoception and exteroception” are terms introduced by Charles Scott Sherrington. The exteroceptors in the organs such as the eyes, ears, mouth, and skin provide information like touch, pressure, light, sound, and taste from the external environment. The interoceptors provide information such as blood pressure, the heart beats about the internal organs, and the “proprioceptors” provide information about muscular and articular sources movement. [Gregory, 2013] Three of them consist of the sensory receptor of the human body and it gives the ability for us to understand and be interactive with the exterior environment or others. [Gandevia, 1996].
For this project students were required to design and make an artefact that engages human proprioceptive ability.
This project consisted of a head mounted circular tube with steel ball bearings rolling around the interior. When the wearer moves their head the effect of the balls moving around the tube puts the person off centre, tilting the tube and causing them to adjust their position so as to rebalance the circle. The weight of the whole assembly made it difficult to hold in place, but the unbalancing effect was significant. The student group suggested it could be incorporated into some kind of exercise routine, and they had designed it in the spirit and design language of a gym accessory. The wider group felt that it needed to be attached to the head so that the full effect of the unbalancing weight wasn’t compromised by holding it with both hands. Overall, a well constructed prototype that perhaps didn’t take full account of how it could be used.
The next project was an articulated perspex tail, attached to the wearer via a belt ,and controllable using shoulder straps that made the tail curl upwards and move from side to side. Inspired by monkey’s tails, this design featured considerable thinking about materials and construction and some impressive making skills in cutting and joining all the separate pieces together. The effect on proprioception was to make people aware of the potential for an extra organ, with an illusion of independent movement, albeit with no actual prehensile abilities. Group feedback focused on how the tail made the wearer feel, with particular reference to the ‘body envelope’ being extended so that for example sitting in a chair involved moving the tail out of the way. A really interesting project, speculating on the potential for enhanced proprioceptive abilities.
The next project involved a group of people wearing blindfolding headsets that delivered sound and vibration to indicate what direction they should all move., a vibration at the left temple to move left and the right temple to move right. The intention was to reproduce some of the emergent effects of flocking in birds in which each bird makes a simple set of directional corrections based on its nearest neighbour. The technical set up was complex, and an impressive achievement for a two week project. Understandably, considering the limitations of Arduino driven systems, the feedback was a little unreliable, but when the group tried the system outside the building there was a definite sense of collective decision making. Perhaps with 500 users flocking effects would be more evident, but the scale of ambition of the design certainly came through.
The final project was a VR experience intended to reproduce the proprioceptive abilities of cats whiskers. When someone put the headset on they saw a moving landscape with obstacles, the aim was to avoid these obstacles by moving the head left and right and up and down. The external sensors were thus connected to a virtual environment, an impressive achievement in such a short time. Some careful thought had also gone into how the system would appear to those not wearing the headset with the spiral eyes and the choice of copper wires for the whiskers. One piece of feedback for the designers of this piece was that the game dynamics were not quite right in that we had to deliberately crash into the virtual obstacles in order to receive haptic feedback. Overall, a notable accomplishment and a well articulated proprioceptive experience.