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Fabric-Based Wearable Device Helps Users Navigate

At Rice University in Houston, Texas, researchers have come up with a fabric-based wearable device that “taps” a user’s wrist with pressurized air, silently assisting them in navigating to their destination.

The study illustrated that users properly interpreted which direction the device was telling them to go an average of 87% of the time. As the wearable fixes the majority of its control system inside the fabric itself, utilizing air rather than electronics, it could be constructed lighter and more compact compared to present designs.

A lightweight wearable device helps users navigate with a tap on the wrist

Video Credit: Device/Preston et al./

The study was reported in the journal Device on August 29, 2023.

We envision this device will be used by individuals who need or desire information to be transmitted to them privately and in a way that can be seamlessly integrated into clothing or other wearables.

Marcia O’Malley, Study Author, Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Rice University

The wearable might advantage amputees who utilize prosthetic limbs, people with hearing loss, and specialists like pilots, surgeons, and soldiers who are inundated with auditory and visual information.

Auditory and visual cues like a flashing light on a dashboard or the ping of a new text message could efficiently transmit information. 

While devices that produce visual cues or sounds are common in daily life, devices that utilize haptic cues are still rare since they generally need heavy hardware that weighs down the wearer.

For this hindrance to be overcome, Rice University scientists developed a light, comfortable wearable device from textile materials that could be worn on a user’s arm.

The research group tested the device by quantifying forces employed by the user as a function of pressure and the shape of the wearable—a task that proved somewhat difficult as various users had various experiences with cues from the same device, stated Barclay Jumet, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and the lead author of the study.

Every person has a differently shaped arm, a different perception of what “feels good” in terms of the forces applied and the timing of the forces, and different capabilities in responding to the type of haptic cues we delivered. Fortunately, our textile-based platform is easily tailorable and adjustable to a range of body types and sizes.

Barclay Jumet, Study Lead Author and PhD Candidate, Mechanical Engineering, Rice University

After testing the performance of their tactile textile sleeves in a laboratory-based study including human participants, the scientists set forth to see how well such devices could assist users in navigating in a real-world scenario.

They combined two sleeves into a shirt and finished the ensemble with a textile belt, where they fixed auxiliary components, making the device portable. An experimenter dispatched cues to the user wearing the device, directing them where to walk for one kilometer.

We were impressed that the user was able to navigate the streets of Houston and subsequently trace 50-meter-long Tetris pieces on an open field with 100% accuracy in receiving and interpreting navigational haptic cues.

Daniel Preston, Study Corresponding Author and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Rice University

In one more navigation test, the participant again took the cues with total precision, this time while riding an electric scooter over concrete sidewalks, paved bricks, and graveled paths.

Further development will seek to improve the ability to convey even more complex cues that remain easily and naturally discerned by the user,” stated Preston.

Journal Reference:

Jumet, B., et al. (2023) Fluidically programmed wearable haptic textiles. Device.


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