A touch of navigation
A 3D device, 'Animotus', can sit in the palm of your hand and change shape to guide you to your destination by touch.
Adam Spiers, a post-doctorate in robotics at Yale University, has created the tool, which helps the visually impaired in particular to follow navigation instructions.
Animotus communicates in 2 ways: the top piece twists right and left to indicate the direction to turn; and slides forward to show how far in that direction the user needs to move. Once ready for the next directional step, the top slides back into its original position.
Adam explains that the principle is that it relies only on sense of touch; he had opted out of using vibrations or sounds as they can quickly become distracting - especially in a city, where pedestrians are constantly bombarded by noise.
To test the product, he partnered with the British theater company Extant, and adapted a version of 'Flatland' - a satirical novel about a fictional 2-dimensional world - around the Animotus device. Audience members, both sighted and visually impaired, became the actors and were guided around a pitch-dark stage. They followed the Animotus instructions to reach various destinations and also listened to actors read the narrative as well as hearing sound effects that told the rest of the story.
Spiers explains that, by the end of the play, participants became so comfortable with their Animotus devices that they didn't want to give them up, adding 'It was quite endearing for me to see them become so attached to the device.'
The current version of Animotus works with wireless location sensors mounted on the walls of the trials space. But the next step will be to enable it to connect to smart phones and other GPS devices to enable it to become an alternative to staring at a screen to find a new location. It will also be trialled in the likes of the middle of a busy street as well as in different terrains.
The project was funded by Nesta, an independent charity organisation in the UK. See details of the device at the Popular Science link below . .