A View from Nidhi Subbaraman
This Haptic Snowboard Teaches You How to Carve
Vibrating actuators on your limbs are no stand in for a human instructor, but they could make you a better snowboarder.
A rookie snowboarder is usually found flying down her first slopes solo, with only the lingering recollection of her instructors last commands passing through her head. But what if her movements were guided by real-time cues from vibrating actuators taped to her arms and legs?
In tests with rookie snowboarders, Daniel Spelmezan from the Université Paris-Sud found that buzzing sensors did help snowboarders learn a descent maneuver. The real use, his volunteers found, was in refining their technique and cementing their stance after they’d practiced new moves a few times.
Vibrating suits and setups are in lab as dance guides and or sports coaches for activities that demand a precise kind of swing or stance. The idea is, as the athlete or dancer moves their limbs, sensors detect their motion and guide them to use the right technique with a series of vibrations. Snowboarding was particularly interesting to Spelmezan because a coach is necessarily far away—they cannot hold and guide their students’ arm as they might demonstrate a tennis swing, for example.
Spelmezan tested his custom sensor setup with ten rookie snowboarders and a snowboarding instructor in an indoor ski resort. All participants got two lessons, one with and one without the sensors on them. Their task was to head downhill using “basic turns” that involved shifting their weight and direction to smoothly zig-zag in an S-shaped pattern down the slope.
Mounted sensors on the snowboards sensed which way the boarders faced when they travelled down the slope, and when they turned to face the other way and continue their way down. The run up to the turn triggered the sensors to buzz in sequence, to remind the boarder which bits of their body to bend or where to shift their weight.
When quizzed later, the snowboarders said that in their first attempts at a move, the vibrating guides were a distraction. They were just too busy thinking, focusing on their coach’s instruction. But later, when they performed a familiar move, the buzzing helped remind them of the posture and stance they needed to keep.
Spelmezan presented his work at the MobileHCI conference in October this year. From what he’d observed in his small group study, he proposes that vibrating sensors on the body, triggered by motion sensors in the snowboard could be helpful to remind snowboarders if they used the wrong turning technique while on the slopes.
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