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. Multicolored maps of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tampa, denoting neighborhood fragmentation
    Equity

    Urban Neighborhoods, Once Distinct by Race and Class, Are Blurring

    Yet in cities, affluent white neighborhoods and high-poverty black ones are outliers, resisting the fragmentation shown with other types of neighborhoods.

  2. Design

    The Curious Politics of a Montreal Mega-Mall

    The car-dependent suburb it’ll be built in wants to greenlight Royalmount against the city government’s wishes but it needs them to pay for the public infrastructure.

  3. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  4. Design

    There’s a Tile Theft Epidemic in Lisbon

    With a single azulejo fetching hundreds of euros at the city’s more reputable antique stores, these tiles, sitting there out in the open, are easy pickings.

  5. A photo of a new subdivision under construction in South Jordan, Utah.
    Perspective

    A Red-State Take on a YIMBY Housing Bill

    Utah’s SB 34, aimed at increasing the state’s supply of affordable housing, may hold lessons for booming cities of the Mountain West, and beyond.