A Map That Nudges

Paul Marks describes the “vibrobelt”, a new navigation tool for cyclists that “uses vibrating actuators that indicate left, right, backward and forward turn directions”:

Developed in a masters project by Haska Steltenpohl of the Intelligent Systems Lab at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, alongside supervisor Anders Bouwer, the system aims to give cyclists a “heads-up” navigator, allowing them to keep their eyes on the road after they have chosen their destination on a GPS smartphone. They simply set off and get directional nudges from the vibrators just before each turn.

To see if the vibrotactile navigation compared well with using a standard GPS map on a handlebar-mounted smartphone, 20 volunteers tried both methods on a variety of unfamiliar routes. While all the cyclists reached their destinations successfully, the researchers noted an important difference: when questioned about landmarks they had passed, the vibrobelt users proved much more aware of their surroundings en route than those who were constantly glancing at a GPS screen.

Update from a reader:

Cool! That would be very useful for deaf drivers, too. (I am one.) I just got an iPhone, and recently used it to check directions for something. I looked at the route while parked, memorized it, put the phone away, and then set off. I was focusing on the road and not the three girls I was ferrying (who were laughing and carrying on in typical 12-year-old fashion). I did notice as we got closer to home that my daughter, in the front seat, would glare in the direction of my phone at intervals but I didn’t think much of it.

After we dropped off the other girls and pulled into my driveway, I noticed her say “Shut UP, Siri!” It turns out that the iPhone had been telling me what to do the whole way home (who knew). This was obviously useless to me. And I couldn’t keep visually checking the phone while driving. The route was pretty simple and easy to memorize but if it had been more complicated, I can imagine the Vibrobelt being incredibly helpful.