The PocketNavigator is an OpenStreetMap-based pedestrian navigation application. It is a research prototype that investigates alternative ways of visualizing map data and routing instructions. For example, the PocketNavigator can present navigation instructions via the sense of touch only, so the device does not need to be taken it out of the pocket.

The background is that using cell phones on the move can result into dangerous distraction from the environment. According to a study on Adults and Cell Phone Distractions one in six (17%) cell-owning adults say they have physically bumped into another person or an object because they were distracted by talking or texting on their phone. Using ear plugs may lead to the “iPod Zombie Trance”, which refers to the loss situational awareness from listening to loud audio content. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, authorities in Australia are speculating that this might be a contributing factor to the still increasing pedestrian fatalities.

Navigation Instructions via the Sense of Touch

In order to encode navigation instructions via the sense of touch we invented a Tactile Compass. The basic idea of the Tactile Compass is to encode the general direction of the next waypoint. Unlike turn-by-turn navigation systems that only announce turning instructions when approaching the turn (e.g. “turn left now”), the Tactile Compass constantly tells the user in which direction to keep (e.g. “keep straight”).

The Tactile Compass can encode four directions: ahead, left-hand side, right-hand side, and behind. Each direction is associated with a unique vibration pattern. The patterns are visualized in the Figure below. For example, if the next waypoint is to the left-hand side, a long vibration pulse is followed by a short one.

Visual representation of the Tactile Compass that is used to deliver the PocketNavigator’s navigation instructions via the sense of touch. The grey bars indicate the vibration patterns associated with each direction.

In field tests, we could not only show that people learn these patterns quickly, but can also effectively be guided to their destination.

Download & More Info

The PocketNavigator can be downloaded for free from the Android Market. It currently runs on Android 1.6 and above. For more information (background, video, manual, …) please visit http://www.pocketnavigator.org/

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