Maps are one of the oldest known information artifacts. An even in the times of GPS navigation systems, people still use them to find their ways in unknown environments.
One of the challenges when navigating by a map is that the map’s abstract content has to be matched to the traveler’s environment. It has for example been found that maps are easier to use when they are rotated so they align with the environment. We were interested if that matching would become easier if the user always knew were the destination was.
In our research we therefore coupled a GPS-enabled handheld with a vibro-tactile belt. The belt consists of eight vibration motors that equally distribute around the user’s waist. A built-in compass allows understanding in which direction the user is facing. The belt was then use to constantly vibrate into the direction of the traveler’s destination.
In a field experiment with 16 participants we tested our approach in the wild. The participants had to reach two destinations, one with a paper map only and the other with the additional support of the vibro-tactile belt.
We found that the vibrational cues made participants less on the map, lose their orientation less often, and take shorter routes.