If you usually travel, surely you are used to going with your eyes glued to the phone screen all the time to find the places you want to visit. Quite a nuisance that, in addition, can leave your mobile phone with a low battery. Scientists from Rice University in the American city of Houston have developed a kind of smart textile device that can change this forever since it can direct the user on his way simply by giving him touches on the arm.
We hope these wearable textiles will benefit people who need clinical support and those who want a better daily experience with things like virtual and augmented reality.
The ingenuity is functional thanks to haptic technology, which allows a device to generate a stimulus in the user similar to the sensation of touch or vibration; it can even cause heat and cold changes. The function is very present in virtual reality and video games.
It promises to become one of the great keys to improving immersion in that virtual world known as the metaverse, which, for the moment, is still in its foundations.
To date, when it comes to navigation, most popular systems, such as Waze or Google Maps, rely on sound or visual information to guide the user.
However, transmitting data in this way can be distracting or overwhelming. Adopting haptic textiles, such as the one created by the Rice researchers, may represent a good alternative. And, furthermore, for everyone.
The technology can help those with vision or hearing loss and those who do not have any of these problems. We hope that users can use this technology to more fully experience the world that others surround, whether a virtual world or the physical world.
To develop their study, the researchers began by developing and testing the textile device with human users in the laboratory. This is something incredibly challenging since each person experiences touch differently. Finding the middle ground so that the ‘wearable’ was functional with as many people as possible was difficult.
Once this phase was passed, the Rice team decided to test its operation in a real environment. They adapted the technology to two sleeves the user wore on their arms and added the technology that makes the device functional to a belt.
A person reaches an electric scooter located several blocks away exclusively by paying attention to the ‘blows’ that the sleeves generate on his arm when he reaches a street. If he had to turn left, the ‘wearable’ on his left arm would indicate it, the same if he had to go to the right. As simple as that. Without hearing any voice telling you to turn seventy meters or go with those planted on the mobile screen, looking at the little arrow on Google Maps.
The team also tested the functionality of the sleeves during an electric scooter ride, where the technology remained perfectly functional despite bumps. According to the study, users correctly interpreted the guidelines set by the device 87% of the time.
As researchers from the American university explain to this newspaper, the technology is mature, so it would not be unusual for similar devices to begin to be marketed in the short or medium term.
The ease with which these devices can be designed, adapted and deployed is one of the significant assets of our work. The materials are inexpensive and commercially available.
Cutting patterns can be customized for any application and user. Once designed, the haptic outputs are consistent, more easily programmed, and activated with less external infrastructure.
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