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'Human Sat Nav' zaps people's legs with electrodes to guide them through streets

Published 13/04/2015

Team behind 'human cruise control' hope that it can be used to let people look up from their phones while exploring
Team behind 'human cruise control' hope that it can be used to let people look up from their phones while exploring

Human Sat Nav that uses electrodes to zap people's legs to encourage them to go in the right direction has been developed by German scientists.

The invention could be used to allow people to navigate without having to always look down at a map or phone, and could help sportspeople, firefighters, older people who are lost and others to find their way.

The technology works by stimulating a muscle that runs from the inside of the knee to the top of the thigh. When that muscle — the sartorius, the longest in the body — is twinged as people walk, it gives a soft guidance that they should walk in that direction.

The subtlety of the zaps mean that the messages are unconscious, according to the students that used it in testing. One compared it to cruise control, in that they could take over if they wanted but were happy to sit back and allow themselves to be steered.

Max Pfeiffer of the University of Hannover is working on the technology and is aware that many could find it difficult to accept. But as wearable computing becomes more popular, with mainstream devices like the Apple Watch, people are likely to become happier with the idea.

While the device was tested on students who were controlled from behind using a phone sending messages over Bluetooth, Pfeiffer hopes to eventually build the technology into other apps.

Navigation software, for instance, could eventually be built so that users need not pull out their phone but instead are softly guided by zaps from it.

"When I use Google Maps and I navigate somewhere, I am always pulling my mobile out of my pocket to check," Pfeiffer told the New Scientist. "We want to remove this step out of the navigation process so you just say ‘I want to go there', and you end up there."

That will mean that users can spend more of their time looking up, exploring the place they're travelling around rather than concentrating on where they need to go.

The team behind the technology also suggest that it could be used to guide crowds as well as individual people. It could be used to subtly tell people how to get around large sports stadiums and similar places.

Other similar technologies are being used to teach people precise skills, like how to use objects or how to use a knife to cut an avocado. In the future, instead of instruction manuals, people could be taught to use new objects using the small electrodes.

Source: Independent

Independent News Service

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