Vibrating belt guides soldiers when they cannot see

A haptic belt promises to help soldiers "see" beyond their normal range when navigating an unfamiliar environment.
Written by Christie Nicholson, Contributor

The digital age has provided for many leaps, as we all know. And one rapidly growing trend has been to increase human senses, often referred to as the quantified self movement. This trend is about measuring everything from using an app to monitor our heart rate during runs, to monitoring our sleep patterns at home with the Zeo EEG headset, to even creating telepathic soldiers.

In 2009 the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded research to create EEG caps for soldiers, with the intention of reading brain waves associated with certain thoughts or intentions. The translated brain waves would then be wirelessly communicated as actual thoughts and intentions, as a sort of "telepathic communication" between soldiers in the field. The project called Silent Talk is still a very long way off.

But something much more plausible and no less amazing is a new navigation device the U.S. army is testing.

It's a haptic belt (haptic comes from the Greek, "I touch") that will give soldiers an enhanced range when navigating their environment. The Army Research Office has been working on perfecting such devices. The belt they are currently testing has eight vibrating electric motors known as "tactors." Eight appears to be the right number to sense everything around you. The tactors vibrate at 250 hertz, which might feel a bit like your vibrating cell phone. The vibrations inform the soldier where to move next, through on/off patterns. The tactors can direct a "halt" command by having front, side and back buzz together. They can also signal a "move out" by pulsing the back and then the front, almost as if they were physically moving the soldier. This is especially good during night missions. It also solves the unfortunate challenge of using GPS devices, like having to balance one's weapon, then look down at one's device instead of keeping an eye on immediate surroundings. As one soldier told New Scientist, "It is hands and thought-free."

Haptic devices have been used in virtual video game development, where tactors signal when a person is shot. Researcher Linda Elliot will be presenting the haptic belt technology at the Human-Computer Interaction conference in Orlando, FL next month.

[via New Scientist]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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