A designer has created a customizable, wearable sensory device to guide visually-impaired users through vibrations.
For the visually impaired, retaining independence in day-to-day life is important. A number of wearable devices have been developed to aid in guiding the visually-impaired, from a vibrating cap that tells blind swimmers when to turn, to a wristband that guides users towards a guide or object. However, most are of limited use, and can make wearers feel self-conscious. Now, Brunel University graduate Emilios Farrington-Arnas has designed a collection of attractive, wearable sensory devices that use vibrations to guide the visually-impaired. Called Maptic (a combination of map and haptic), the set includes a visual sensor that is worn like a necklace, and feedback units, worn on the left and right sides of the body, that can be clipped onto clothing or worn as bracelets. The design of the units can be easily customized to suit users’ individual style.
Farrington-Arnas went through more than 30 prototypes in developing his design. The final design uses long-range, time-of-flight sensors to allow turn-by-turn navigation, where the user is directed to a destination through vibrations, rather than spoken word. Users can detect the state of the system, such as whether it is on or off, and set for indoor or outdoor use, by running a finger down the device. The devices are charged with a basic headphone jack on a custom dock. To minimize size and maximize battery life, Farrington-Arnas decided to link the Maptic to a smartphone app, rather than use an in-built GPS unit. The sensor connects to the voice-controlled app, and uses GPS to direct the wearer through a series of vibrations to the devices worn on the left and right sides of the body. Because it does not require headphones, users aren’t distracted from surrounding environmental noise.
Maptic won a James Dyson Foundation Scholarship for innovation in design solutions, and Farrington-Arnas is currently experimenting with ways of extending the system for use by able sighted people – who have also shown interest in its hands-free turn-by-turn navigation.