Common mobile smart phones are already equipped with GPS, enabling mobile map applications, e.g. Google Maps, for being used as pedestrian navigation device. The map provides an overview over the environment, does also know smaller pedestrian paths or sights, and often provides a function to calculate a route to an arbitrary destination. One major disadvantage of these map applications is that they repetitively require to be watched and re-interpreted by the user while in use. The use of speech seems useful, but can be easily disturbed by e.g. traffic noise. Both methods require the permanent carrying of the device in the hand, which is exhausting and annoying. Additionally the risk of getting the device stolen or lost is unnecessary high.
Thus, it would be better if the mobile device could stay inside the pocket while the user could somehow retrieve the navigation instructions. For this reason, researchers from the OFFIS - Institute for Information Technology propose tactile feedback as suitable modality. Tactile feedback describes the controlled manipulation of receptors within the human skin, like it is done by the tactile actuator within a mobile phone to notify about an incoming call. With the creation of different rhythms and durations for the tactile stimulations, navigation instructions can be encoded and then perceived by a human, while the device stays securely inside the pocket.
Early user studies revealed that TwoPulse is the most easy to understand and effective method. With TwoPulse two short tactile pulses, differing in their duration, are presented to the user. If both pulses have the same length, the direction ahead is shown. If the first pulse is longer than the second one, the user has to turn left a bit. Accordingly, if the right pulse is longer the user has to turn right.
Until now it is unclear if such tactile feedback can be helpful outside of a research lab in everyday navigation tasks. To find an answer for this question, the researchers are approaching the wide public. Since today the navigation application PocketNavigator can be downloaded for free from the Android Market. This application contains, beside common features like a map view or routing, the possibility to enable and try the tactile feedback. Anonymised application usage data will be send to the researchers, if accepted by the user. With this data the value of tactile feedback for everyday navigation tasks should be proved. The PocketNavigator is available for free until today in the Android Market.
The HaptiMap project (FP7-ICT-224675) is aimed at making maps and location based services more accessible by using several senses like touch, hearing and vision. Our end goal is to increase the number of persons who are able to use mainstream map services. HaptiMap, Haptic, Audio and Visual Interfaces for Maps and Location Based Services, is a project which receives financial support from the European Commission in the Seventh Framework Programme, under the Cooperation Programme ICT - Information and Communication Technologies (Challenge 7 - Independent living and inclusion).