Most people today rely on technology to navigate through the world. That is practical thanks to the reliability of modern GPS. But receiving directions can be difficult for people with certain disabilities. People who are blind, for instance, cannot look at a map on a smartphone. People with missing limbs may not even be able to hold a smartphone. To help those people, Rice University engineers have developed a lightweight wearable device that uses pressurized air to provide directions.
Instead of displaying a graphical map, this device indicates to the user when they should make a turn. It does so through pneumatic haptic feedback. The device’s electronic components attach to wearable textiles, so it is out of the way. Pneumatic hoses run from the device to nozzles pointed at the user’s skin. The locations of those nozzles can be tailored to suit the user’s preferences and physiology. When the device needs to alert the user, such as when a turn is coming up, it will open a valve to the appropriate hose so air blows on their skin.
The Rice engineers designed a prototype to test this concept, which uses an Arduino Nano board for control. The Arduino opens the solenoid valves through MOSFETs and it receives commands from an external device, like a computer, via a four-channel 433MHz receiver. Air comes from canisters of compressed CO2 through a pressure regulator.
In testing, subjects were able to correctly interpret the pneumatic haptic feedback 87% of the time.
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