Haptic Compass


[eric], inspired by this Wired article, built his own haptic compass. Named “the clown belt”, it is a belt with 12 little vibrating motors mounted evenly all around. A digital compass vibrates whichever motor is closest to north at all times. This basically gives the owner an extra sense.  He doesn’t go much into his own experiences, but the Wired article mentions “dreaming in north” and feeling strange once they finally removed it. Precise direction senses may not be super power worthy, but they would be cool.

[thanks cnelson]

44 thoughts on “Haptic Compass

  1. it would be interesting to see if you could continue to “sense” which way is north subconsciously after wearing this for a long time. i’d imagine after a while your mind would start predict which motors were going to vibrate.

  2. @bort/matt:

    Why not? I can (now, sometimes I can get turned around and be wrong, but its not common) generally sense which cardinal I’m facing, even in the dark and in unfamiliar territory. Why wouldn’t this be a possible way to train your inner directional sense to be more sensitive? I like it. :p

  3. that sounds pretty awesome, actually. it’d be cool to put this in a hat, and maybe just have it apply really gentle pressure in whichever direction north is. you could use the same array of hat-mounted feedback devices to give yourself other senses. imagine being able to sense electromagnetic fields, or using sonar to sense what is around you. cool!

  4. In fact, even cooler than the compass is what he says in the article:

    “the belt has additional features: it can be connected via serial to my iphone which delivers up a bearing to an arbitrary destination. i have a first generation iphone, which means my current location is highly approximate, but for distant locations it works great.”

    so you can set yourself a waypoint and ‘feel’ your way towards it! for some reason i just find that really fantastic.

  5. Why 12 points?

    It would seem more logical to have 16 to me. I know it wouldn’t matter if you were just “feeling” north, but what if you actually wanted to navigate? With a little more thought you could quickly tell if you were going north by northeast. With 12 you don’t get that, you don’t even really get northeast.

    Obviously the more points the more accurate, with a continuous loop being ideal.

    I would probably use something other than a vibrating motor too, maybe setup a switch that just is on or off and pokes you. Might save battery life that way instead of constantly vibrating, plus that constant buzz would be pretty annoying if anyone else was around..

  6. @jeff:

    I’m PWMing the motors, so that as many as two motors can vibrate simultaneously if “north” falls between them. They vibrate with a duty cycle proportional to how “close” the north vector is to the vector to the motor.

    I’m definitely not going to have a belt that pokes me. That’s an anti-feature.

    You can’t hear the buzz from the motors, its dampened by my body.

  7. “I have a clue that’s pointing in THIS direction”
    “omg i so have a clue”
    “i have a RAGING clue”
    “let’s follow YOUR clue!”
    the hardy brother’s two young whipper snappers with a knack for solving crime.

    that would be awesome for blind people like with a bit of development it can really do allot


  8. How about a system of bladders that puts a gentle pressure on you? Or maybe some piezo elements that make you warmer/colder.

    I would love a magnetic sensor like some animals posses, I believe it is a small piece of iron connected to some nerves, should look into that.

  9. @nubie
    There was a guy who put a neodymium magnet under his finger, and he could tell when wires were live and magnetic fields and such. Eventually, however the magnet got infected, and in another case the magnet came out because the body pushed it out, i cant find the site I saw it on before, however I didnt look for very long…

  10. ..alzheimer, they would forget what it was and be freaked.

    And incidentally, I understand women get sexually excited by vibration, but personally it doesn’t work for me (and that’s so for most men I think)

    Excuse the broken post, something fell on the enter key as I was posting.

  11. This reminds me of a device in a Asimov book, (caves of steel?) a small pebble like device is given to a man to find an office in a building. He holds the device to point in front of him and it will produce heat as it become correctly aligned (i.e the warmer/colder game) it is aware of its location and updates its ‘current waypoint’ for turn by turn directions. The beauty is you don’t have to walk around looking like a tourist. well…. whos up for building this then?

  12. How about using some kind of inflatable bladder, or something else that you can increase in size electronically/mechanically? Or rather, several of them. Swell it around the north area and you’ll feel a pressure.

    Might not require that much power to maintain, and I doubt it’d be as loud.

  13. “And incidentally, I understand women get sexually excited by vibration, but personally it doesn’t work for me (and that’s so for most men I think)”

    I don’t think you can say that about most men…

    Maybe you have some sort of distorted perception that “toys” that vibrate are all for women…

  14. I’m actuly working on one of these, mine differs because i’m useing a modular design, the poer supply and the logic are in a seperate pacage from the belt. this lets me put the bulky stuff in the pocket of a pair of cargo pants and then hide the sensor and belt under a shirt.

    the only problems i’m having are cost(college student), wear on the vibes, and battery life.

    It would be nice if i could see the code it’s using, i’m uusing a little bit of overlap between the directions to prevent 2 adjacent vibes from shifting back a fourth too fast for me to handle.

  15. @AbsoluteZero
    I base my generalisation about vibration not stimulating men (-apart from personal views-) on the simple observation that there are no vibrating sextoys for men really AFAIK, there are some that attach to men but they are meant to please the woman, this simple observation seems to support my theory.
    To me vibration numbs, enough said.

  16. I seem to remember an article about a scientist who actually got an implant in his arm connected to a nerve, and was able to connect a sonar device to it, but it didn’t register to be part of his hand, but rather more like an extra sense. I wasn’t able to find that article, but I did find one regarding an implant that was used for both control and sensory input.

  17. @ Wwhat
    There are vibration toys specifically for men. Specifically to sneak up behind the prostate, and to stimulate from the bottom.

    That’s what random surfing taught me. That, and never blindly follow links at 3 am.

    Plus my memory’s highly selective: Buy milk? Not storing that. Boring! Anal stimulation? Hey *that* might come in handy!

    (will probably amend the link-following at 3 am rule with a rule about posting the results at about 2 am)

  18. @andar_b

    I think your refering to Kevin Warwick who I believe did it, or at least the same thing through several implants and using a helmet to input senses like Ultra-sonic detection simular to bats.

  19. This was indeed Kevin Warwick who did this (http://www.kevinwarwick.com). He connected a neuro array to the nerves in his arm which he then hooked up to several sensors and actuators (and actually brought it online as well). Most famous is the story of him hooking it up to an IR camera on a baseball cap and walking around in dark area’s. He describes that he would get a feeling of fear when he was about to bump into stuff. He now is building robots with nerve cells from rats which he tries to condition.

    Interesting stuff, as is the hack discussed here. I’m also curious whether one could learn to develop an persistent extra sense this way (also when you would unhook the device). Maybe we pickup more signals than we think and some training to can learn us to link the stimulus to the source.

  20. wow – I think the idea is pretty awesome. I can think of a few improvements:

    – why make it point north? This would be far more helpful if coupled with a navigation system. You select your destination on your phone and will be directed towards it!
    As mentioned above – this would help in a foreign city and prevent you from looking like a tourist. You could also use it for hiking of cycling.

    – a constant vibration might get annoying. A constant pressure might not be noticeable after a while of walkin straight. Why not pulse the vibrators if indicating the same direction? Increasing delays for constant direction, no delay if rotating. One could even encode the distance that still needs to be traveled.

    This could also reduce power consumption and wearout.

  21. I wonder if it would work to have two different vibration patterns: constant vibration for north and pulsing for a destination. When the two are the same it would pulse slowly or something.

  22. Have you tried piezo? Modern fighter jets use piezo elements in the gloves run at different frequencies to simulate the sensation of PRESSURE. Running them at lower frequencies produces sensations discernible as vibration (like when we use them to make noise) so you could (theoretically) use the pressure for direction sense and the lower-frequency vibration for signals.

    @schobi: uh, the system already provides navigation to a waypoint. Congratulations on reading the whole thing, huh?

  23. Wired article on Compass belt from 2007

    Hackaday article from 2009 on a homebrew version

    I love seeing ideas like this revisited and refined as tech progresses. Cellphone viration motors have gotten small enough now you could probably incorporate a compass band into the strap for an over-the-chest heart rate monitor.

    With some other sensors you might be able to turn into a “survival band” that’s one part GPS/compass and one part bio monitor for deep wilderness trekking. If you wanted to take it a step further into the body-mod realm subdermal anchors for the vibration motors and battery packs all linked together by conductive ink tattoos would give you a semi-permenant sense of north. Don’t know how the ink would fare in an MRI though.

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