The recent spread of GPS enabled technologies in our daily lives offers new ways to assist individuals, especially the visually impaired, in their displacements. The technologies currently available on the market often use audio cues to communicate with the user. The use of haptic devices allows for a communication without interference between the ambient sounds, essential for safety, and the messages to the user.

The developed solution, a haptic compass, aims to guide the user using haptic feedback in unknown environments. Its principle is based on the asymmetric oscillation of internal masses that feel like being pulled in the desired direction.

Experiments with subjects showed that the most efficient haptic feedback for the reorientation task is obtained at frequencies between 5 and 15 Hz for torques superior to 0.04 Nm. Further experiments also demonstrated the efficiency of changing the feedback proportionally to the difference between target and current orientation.

A case study has finally been made in a controlled environment. Volunteers had to reach virtual waypoints in a room, while blindfolded and using only the haptic feedback. Their current location and heading were reported using reflective objects attached to their hand and head. All 19 subjects succeeded in reaching every single waypoint using solely the haptic feedback. It was also noted that the users intuitively developed their own orientation strategies with the haptic compass. It also showed the importance of individual customization to the user.

This device could assist the users in their everyday displacements and in new locations. While it can be helpful for a broad range of users, it is especially adapted to the needs of the visually impaired. 

Link to IEEE article : ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7490346/