Modified Google Glass can teach you Morse code in four hours

Morse code is one of the more remarkable languages that humans have ever created. Designed in 1836, shortly after the telegraph was invented, it had a huge influence on early electronic communication as well as aviation and warfare.

Today Morse has largely been replaced by bits and bytes when it comes to sending messages over great distances. But it's still popular among amateur radio operators and people with motion disabilities. And now it's also being used to prove that people can learn while not actively paying attention.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have built a system that can teach people morse code while they're concentrating on something else entirely. To do it, they modified a set of Google Glass (remember that?), which has a built-in speaker and bone-conduction transducer that simulates the experience of being tapped on the side of the head.

Dots and Dashes

In the teaching process, participants played games while the device's speaker named a letter and then heard the associated morse code signal. Half of the group were also given taps representing the dots and dashes of morse code between their temple and their ear. 

After less than four hours, those who got the taps were 94 percent accurate when writing a sentence that included every letter of the alphabet, and 98 percent accurate writing out the codes for each letter. Those who didn't get the taps were accurate only half the time.

Similar experiments in the past have taught people braille and how to play the piano. The researcher's next challenge is to find out if the same process could help people learn to type on a QWERTY keyboard, assigning different letters to different fingers. 

"Does this new study mean that people will rush out to learn Morse code? Probably not," said Thad Starner, who carried out the experiments. 

"It shows that passive haptic learning lowers the barrier to learn text-entry methods — something we need for smartwatches and any text-entry that doesn't require you to look at your device or keyboard."

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.