Haptic wayfinding for the visually impaired

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Never get lost again using Nebula's haptic navigation

Travelling and exploring unfamiliar places is an exciting experience for most sighted people. However, for the visually impaired and blind people, this experience is often more frustrating and mentally demanding than enjoyable. They rely on tools informing them about their immediate surroundings and the other senses to grasp their environment. Nebula is an interactive belt that supports unfamiliar urban exploration for people with visual impairment. The belt translates navigational data into haptic sensation, allowing users to explore without constantly figuring out where they are going or from where they come. Nebula minimises the fear of getting lost and relieves mental strain by creating a haptic breadcrumb trail to ensure the wearer always gets home. Nebula encourages exploration while allowing the wearer to immerse in the experience and enjoy the journey. 

Nebula is an interactive belt that helps visually impaired people to travel to and explore unfamiliar urban spaces, enriching this experience by relieving them of the mental strain of constantly having to create a mental map of their route. The wearer sets a waypoint by simply pressing a button, after which they are free to roam the city. When the users decides to go back they turn on the device by the flick of a switch. Nebula will then provide subtle vibrations to indicate the direction of the waypoint. It will communicate distance to the waypoint through the frequency of the pulse. The higher the frequency the closer the waypoint.  Nebula’s outer belt is interchangeable. And while washability is one reason, the main reason is to give the wearer the possibility to express themselves or choose a, to them, more comfortable material. The outer belt will therefore be sold in two categories, comfort and aesthetic.  The comfort line uses more flexible, soft, and skin-friendly materials, which can be worn underneath the wearers clothing. The aesthetic line aims to be worn over the clothing, which will give the user a way to express themselves wearing the belt. This category of belts will include fabrics with interesting looks and textures to give it a tactile aesthetic.

Wearable technology

Nebula was developed through several iterations of wearable technology. The final iteration was build using a microcontroller receiving navigational data from a gps/compass module. The belt translates this data into haptic pulses through 7 vibration motors to steer the wearer in an abstract way. The wearer sets a waypoint using the large button on the front and turns on the device, when needed, by flicking the switch on the side. The positioning of each of the components was defined through hands-on testing. The belt remains flexible through the use of conductive yarn rather than traditional wiring. The current concept has two built in LiPo batteries giving the device a couple hours of charge. However, the user can easily charge the device by connecting a Micro-USB. Except for the vibration motors, all electronic components are built into the buckle making the device comfortable to wear. The buckle was designed with manufacturability in mind. It is made out of two injection mouldable hard plastic parts. The belt itself is made out of two different fabrics and some elastic band. The fabrics can be adjusted to the users preference, but overall the inner fabric is soft and comfortable while the outer fabric is more sturdy and textured giving the belt an interesting and durable feel.