Skip to Content

O Vibrating Gloves, Lead Me to the Cereal

When your eyes have trouble spotting an object, the latest in vibrotactile gear could speed up your search.
October 22, 2012

My keys seem to disappear just when I’m ready to leave the house. What follows is a 10-minute hunt, through closets and under cushions and into the laundry basket (did I leave them in the pocket of the pants I wore last?), until I finally find them in a corner of my messy desk.

You’ve probably been in such a situation, spending minutes looking around for a book, or your phone, when all the while it was right there, under your nose. You just didn’t see it.

A version of the Kinect system, altered in Helsinki, Finland, is being designed to solve this daily visual search problem. It uses fabric, four small motors, and the all-seeing power of the Kinect to guide its wearer toward objects using pulsed nudges.

Designers from the Helsinki Institute of Information Technology Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics are responsible for the innovation. As they explain it, you hold your gloved hand in front of you, and the Kinect senses how close or far away you are from the object you’re looking for. It then vibrates to guide you in the right direction.

Twelve volunteers participated in tests to check just how useful such a nudge was in augmenting visual search. Their task was to pick out and point to a letter B projected on a canvas taped to a wall. The catch was, the B was surrounded by a matrix of Ps, making it harder to spot. With each successive testing round, the number of Ps increased.

The authors found that in the early stages, all volunteers aimed their fingers at the B at about the same time. As the scene in front of them became more complex, however, the gloved volunteers receiving touch signals started relying on tactile cues more. After a certain point, they were racing their co-testers, picking out the B on the wall faster than the volunteers who were just using their eyes.

The designers anticipate that a version of their glove could lead you to a particular book in a library’s vast stacks, or help spot your favorite cereal box in the breakfast aisle of the grocery store.

The gloves join a rich list of under-construction vibrotactile guides. In development elsewhere are haptic styluses that help stroke victims with rehabilitation,   steering wheels that give you tactile reminders that you may be veering too far out of your lane, and even bodysuits that teach you to dance

Keep Reading

Most Popular

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

biomass with Charm mobile unit in background
biomass with Charm mobile unit in background

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

Peter Reinhardt
Peter Reinhardt

How Charm Industrial hopes to use crops to cut steel emissions

The startup believes its bio-oil, once converted into syngas, could help clean up the dirtiest industrial sector.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.