Vibrating Belt Could Help the Blind Navigate the World
Sensory augmentation worn on the waist
The feelSpace Navigation Belt is fitted with 16 actuators that vibrate to guide a blind person. Paired up to a GPS-enabled phone, it acts as the blind’s precise guide to navigating the city.
Using the belt is easy. The desired destination is keyed in on the smartphone, the route is calculated, and the belt does the navigating. A vibrator signals at which specific angle to make a turn to while the other actuators dynamically vibrate in response, so the wearer knows when to stop turning.
Compared to other navigation systems, the German startup behind the belt says the tactile feedback drops a lower load on the senses. The noise of the city wouldn’t interfere with the vibrations. The 360° coverage also gives a higher level of confidence. This also means that turning toward diagonal roads becomes an easy feat.
The feelSpace has another major unique future. Taking cues from how migratory birds use magnetic fields to find their way, the feelSpace belt also provides its users a constant sense of where the true north is.
This general awareness isn’t top priority in blind navigation systems seen before. Many of them offer a robotic navigation method—walk to point A, turn left at point A, walk to point B, turn at point B. With the feelSense, when the wearer makes a turn, the motors will vibrate in succession, corresponding to the degree of the turn and its alignment to the true north.
(Above: Photo from early days of the feelSense project)
The startup calls this “sensory augmentation,” a step ahead of the simplistic point-to-point navigation. Users are actually made aware of their surroundings and where they are facing, giving them a strong landmark (the true north) so they can have a better idea of the physical space they are in. According to multiple trials by the startup, this added feature gave the blind better confidence about their surroundings.
PSFK has previously reported on several projects for inclusive technology. Many of them explore the potential of using technology like iBeacon, RFID and even bat-like sonar in accurately digitizing physical spaces. With a sophisticated navigation system like feelSense, these systems can work together to provide a highly effective navigation system reliable enough for the blind to use.
The project started at the University of Osnabrück’s Institute of Cognitive Learning, exploring how the human body can adapt new senses. As a startup, feelSense is now gaining recognition in German media. No word yet on availability.