Posted by: Footler PJ27 NOV 2008
Colleagues of a certain age will remember the concept of the dunce’s corner. A small child who could not answer teacher’s question was made to stand in a corner of the classroom wearing a dunce’s cap. I do not suppose such treatment is allowed nowadays.
In contrast to the dunce’s cap, you may recall the teacher who stood behind you saying, “Come on boy! Put on your thinking cap!”. I often wondered what he was talking about. Now, at last, help may be at hand.
Allan Snyder and Elaine Mulcahy of Sydney University have studied the way that autistic savants are able to perform amazing feats of mental arithmetic and to paint detailed pictures without training. They found that the left side of their brain is shut down, possibly as the result of damage to the tissue. This concentrates all the activity in the creative areas of the right side.
The researchers placed small magnetic coils in a hairnet-like cap. Wearing the cap can temporarily switch off the left side of a volunteer’s brain, thus mimicking the brain pattern of the autistic savants. They call this technique transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and suggest the hairnet could be developed into a thinking cap.
Another type of headgear may allow new applications for the techniques used to help guide a robot around its workstation. Rescuers such as firemen who have to find their way around dark, smoke-filled buildings find cameras and torches useless.
Burcu Cinaz and Holger Kenn, two researchers in Germany, are trying to develop a system that would help to build up a map of the area being searched. An infrared laser scanner attached to the rescuer’s helmet and combined with computer software records the distance and direction travelled.
The process has been called simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM). The wearer could use the resulting image to navigate his way through the smoke.
Both hats require much more development before they come into general use but I am thinking of asking Santa for one of those thinking caps for Christmas.