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The technology is called galvanic vestibular stimulation _ essentially, electricity messes with the delicate nerves inside the ear that help maintain balance.
I felt a mysterious, irresistible urge to start walking to the right whenever the researcher turned the switch to the right. I was convinced _ mistakenly _ that this was the only way to maintain my balance.
The phenomenon is painless but dramatic. Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands.
There's no proven-beyond-a-doubt explanation yet as to why people start veering when electricity hits their ear. But NTT researchers say they were able to make a person walk along a route in the shape of a giant pretzel using this technique.
It's a mesmerizing sensation similar to being drunk or melting into sleep under the influence of anesthesia. But it's more definitive, as though an invisible hand were reaching inside your brain.
NTT says the feature may be used in video games and amusement park rides, although there are no plans so far for a commercial product.
Some people really enjoy the experience, researchers said while acknowledging that others feel uncomfortable.
I watched a simple racing-car game demonstration on a large screen while wearing a device programmed to synchronize the curves with galvanic vestibular stimulation. It accentuated the swaying as an imaginary racing car zipped through a virtual course, making me wobbly.
Another program had the electric current timed to music. My head was pulsating against my will, getting jerked around on my neck. I became so dizzy I could barely stand. I had to turn it off.
NTT researchers suggested this may be a reflection of my lack of musical abilities. People in tune with freely expressing themselves love the sensation, they said.
"We call this a virtual dance experience although some people have mentioned it's more like a virtual drug experience," said Taro Maeda, senior research scientist at NTT. "I'm really hopeful Apple Computer will be interested in this technology to offer it in their iPod."
Research on using electricity to affect human balance has been going on around the world for some time.