Soldiers have already a lot of technology to help them navigate the battlefields at night, such as night vision goggles and GPS systems. From today on, however, a new tool will allow them to move in the dark without feeling awkward and somewhat limited in their movements.
The researchers of the American Army Research Office have developed a vibrating belt with eight mini actuators, called “tactors”, each of which corresponds to a cardinal point to indicate the direction. The belt is connected to a GPS navigation system, a digital compass and an accelerometer, so that the system can detect where the soldier is directed even if it is lying on its side or back.
The tactors vibrate at 250 hertz, which is equivalent to a slight nudge around the waist. Researchers have developed a sort of tactile Morse code to point out direction, helping the soldier to determine which way to go, says New Scientist. A buzz of the front, side and back tactors, for example, means “halt”, while a pulsating movement from back to front means “move”, and so on.
The researchers, led by Elmar Schmeisser and Linda Elliott, tested the belts for the Army personnel during training exercises, both night and day. The subjects had to respond to requests for information and search for targets while moving. The system, according to scholars, was really appreciated by the soldiers, because it allows them to go in the right direction without distraction to handle traditional GPS devices.
The same researchers now are also working with a company that is producing a tactile glove, allowing the platoon commanders to communicate with the normal military gestures of the hand, sending a nonverbal message to belts, connected wirelessly to the system, running even from miles away.