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Researchers develop GPS-enabled, wearable tactile device

Posted: 18 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:GPS? wearable tactile device? accelerometer?

"For a lot of sensory modalities, you have to work out what it is people can process, as one of the dictates for how you design," noted Jones, whose results will appear in the journal IEEE Transactions on Haptics. "There's no point in making things much more compact, which may be a desirable feature from an engineering point of view, but from a human-use point of view, doesn't make a difference."

In addition to measuring skin's sensitivity to vibrations, Jones and co-author Katherine Sofia found that skin has a strong effect on motor vibrations. The researchers compared a pancake motor's frequency of vibrations when mounted on a rigid structure or on more compliant skin. They found that in general, skin reduced a motor's vibrations by 28 per cent, with the forearm and thigh having a slightly stronger dampening effect than the palm of the hand.

The skin's damping of motor vibrations is significant, Jones stated, if engineers plan to build tactile displays that incorporate different frequencies of vibrations. For instance, the difference between two motorsone slightly faster than the othermay be indistinguishable in certain parts of the skin. Likewise, two motors spaced a certain distance apart may be differentiable in one area but not another. "Should I have eight motors, or is four enough that 90 per cent of the time, I'll know that when this one's on, it's this one and not that one?" Jones said. "We're answering those sorts of questions in the context of what information you want to present using a device."

Jones sees promising applications for wearable tactile displays. In addition to helping drivers navigate, she said tactile stimuli may direct firefighters through burning buildings, or emergency workers through disaster sites. In more mundane scenarios, she says tactile displays may help joggers traverse an unfamiliar city, taking directions from a buzzing wristband, instead of having to look at a smartphone.

Using data from their mechanical and perceptual experiments, Jones' group is designing arrays that can be worn across the back and around the wrist, and is investigating various ways to present vibrations. For example, a row of vibrations activated sequentially from left to right may tell a driver to turn right; a single motor that buzzes with increasing frequency may be a warning to slow down.

"There's a lot of things you can do with these displays that are fairly intuitive in terms of how people respond," Jones added, "which is important because no one's going to spend hours and hours in any application, learning what a signal means."


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