London, April 13:
People charting unfamiliar territory needn’t fear about getting lost anymore, with German scientists comming up with the first human satellite navigation system that guides walkers with the help of signals sent to electrodes strapped to their legs.
Max Pfeiffer, at the University of Hannover, believes that the invention will allow tourists to navigate unfamiliar cities without taking their eyes off the road, because they no longer need to follow directions, The Telegraph reported on Sunday.
An electrical pulse is used to stimulate the sartorius muscle, which runs from the inside of the knee to the top of the outer thigh.
When the muscle contracts, it pulls the leg out and away from the body, turning the walker either right or left depending on the leg that is targeted. The contraction happens on the upswing, and feels like a gentle tug in one direction. It is easy to override.
The device has been shown to work on students who were successfully steered through a park in the city of Hannover by researchers using a mobile phone to send Bluetooth signals to the electrodes.
In future, the researchers hope to hook up the device to the Global Positioning System (GPS) so that a destination could be programmed in.
Apart from benefiting tourists, Pfeiffer said that the innovation could be used in sports, crowd control, or to guide firefighters in burning buildings.
“In sports for example, it could steer long distance runners via different jogging trails on different days for increased variety and enjoyment,” said Pfeiffer.
“New variants of team sports may be devised in which the coach or an external player may influence the moves of the team.
“Imagine visitors of a large sports stadium or theatre being guided to their place or being evacuated from a stadium in the most efficient way.
“It may help disorientated elderly people to find their way home.”
The researchers even claimed that the new device could “facilitate serendipitous encounters in public places”, suggesting that it could be linked to dating apps to help prospective partners find each other, literally.
Student volunteers who tested the system said that the tiny electric currents caused the change in direction to happen subconsciously, without affecting stride or gait, although some noticed a strange tingling sensation.
Others were concerned that they might end up walking through puddles or inadvertently step on people sitting on the ground if they were no longer being steered by a human.
However, the research team hopes that it will end the need for people to be constantly glancing down at their smartphones for directions, so they can take greater notice of what is happening around them. (IANS)