Add new sensory organs, weaponize them.

Haptic soldiers guided by buzzing belt

He and his colleagues have now developed a range of vibrating mini electric motors known as tactile actuators, or "tactors", and tested them in various configurations. "What's best is a belt around the torso with eight tactors signifying the eight cardinal directions."

The tactors vibrate at 250 hertz, which is just enough to give a gentle but noticeable buzz around the torso at regular intervals indicating the direction in which the soldier needs to travel to reach the next waypoint.

The belts are hooked up to a regular GPS device to access directional information, as well as an accelerometer and digital compass. These mean the device knows which way the soldier is facing, even if they are lying down. "As long as you are going in the right direction you will feel it on your front," says Elliott, who will be presenting the technology at the Human-Computer Interaction conference in Orlando, Florida, in July. "As you get to within 50 metres of the waypoint all the tactors start to go off, and within 15 metres they will quicken."

Besides directions, the tactors can communicate commands such as "halt", signified by the front, back and side tactors pulsing simultaneously, or "move out", when they pulse from back to front, almost as if they were pushing the soldier forward.

While commands could be sent from base, Schmeisser and Elliott are also working with a company called AnthroTronix, which has developed a glove that has integrated accelerometers to detect hand gestures. The hope is to allow a platoon leader to be able to communicate with their squad while out in the field through standard military hand gestures sent wirelessly to their belts, says Elliott.

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8 Responses:

  1. Joel Bernstein says:

    What if the soldiers are ticklish?

  2. "As long as you are going in the right direction you will feel it on your front," so wear that belt real low to get a little reward stimulus.

  3. Brian Dunbar says:

    Maybe I'm just old fashioned but . . . what's so wrong with navigating using a map and compass that we have to have all this damned Buck Rodgers crap just to get from Point A to B.

    And, dang it, get offa my lawn.

    • An unfolded paper map is bulky and noisy (it also obstructs vision); in direct proportion to its utility(detail). Even when folded, a paper map is subject to a variety of environmental hazards. It is usually at least a week out of date or more; which in combat conditions can range from OK to useless to deceptively deadly(yeah that forest is now a swamp,yeah runoff, yeah you should mark that on your copy).

      • Brian Dunbar says:

        Batteries run out, are heavy, and a burden on the logistic system. Yeah, it's only one per man per day (let's say) but we're also giving these guys a lot of other things that run on batteries and that adds up.

        My real objection is that having a system like this will lesson the need to teach people how to navigate. When crunch time comes in the training schedule, the temptation will be to give short shrift to land nav skills ('They can pick that up in the Fleet.') and we'll have a lot of soldiers and Marines who don't know how to read a map. Which can come in handy for _other_ things like calling artillery, telling other people where you are.

        I also get crabby thinking about how dependent we've become on sat-based systems, that adding one more dependency brings out my inner grump.