Yale University

A new haptic wayfinding gadget changes configuration to indicate direction and distance.

Animotus is a palm-sized gadget that hopes to help you get around.

Developed by Adam Spiers, a postdoctoral associate in robotics at Yale, is a touch-based system. Instead of relying on, say, spoken GPS instructions or squinting at a map that charts your path through space, the haptic device changes shape to point you on your way. One portion of the cube twists left or right, indicating directions; the other part slides forwards or backwards, denoting distance.

Yale University

The device receives wireless feedback to help users navigate towards pre-set destinations. It’s accurate within about 30 centimeters, Spiers says, but isn’t calibrated so precisely as to help you avoid obstacles such as a coffee table or rogue shoe splayed out on the floor. (Although, he adds, localization can be further improved.) In general, it selects the most direct route from point A to point B, “but it wouldn’t try to send you through a wall to get there,” Spiers says.

Spiers initially developed the prototype for use in an immersive theater installation, where audience members made their way through complete darkness by using the device.

“You hear about people walking into fountains or crashing into lampposts because they’re staring at their phones,” Spiers notes. The device could eliminate the necessity of hunching over your phone’s map. And he also hopes that it could be a useful tool for visually impaired pedestrians who are used to tuning into aural instructions. “It would just work in the background the whole time,” he says. “It wouldn’t obscure the sounds of the city, which is one way that a visually impaired person appreciates the world.”

So far, testing has occurred only during the art performance and in the controlled atmosphere of the lab. Spiers hopes to try the device in urban environments in the near future.

The gadget is constantly being refined, a painstaking process dramatically simplified by 3-D printing. For the performance, Spiers emailed the hardware to the artistic staff, who could print and assemble extra devices as needed.

He designed the device to be intuitive. “We don’t want people to spend days or weeks learning how to use it,” he says. “You should just be able to pick it up and go.”

H/T: Gizmag

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.
    Maps

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  2. Life

    Is Minimalism for Black People?

    Black communities have long practiced core tenets of the lifestyle—yet are not well-represented amongst its most recognizable influencers.

  3. Maps

    Mapping Where Europe's Population Is Moving, Aging, and Finding Work

    Younger people are fleeing rural areas, migrating northward, and having fewer children. Here’s how that’s changing the region.

  4. An illustration of a front porch.
    Life

    America Rediscovers Its Love of the Front Porch

    In the 20th century, porches couldn’t compete with TV and air conditioning. Now this classic feature of American homes is staging a comeback as something more stylish and image-conscious than ever before.

  5. Equity

    More Evidence That the Olympics Won't Fix Your City

    London really tried to use the 2012 Games to improve people’s lives. A new report shows the skeptics were right all along.