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Flatland: An Immersive Theatre Experience Centered on Shape Changing Haptic Navigation Technology



Flatland was a large scale immersive theatre production completed in March 2015 that made use of a novel shape-changing haptic navigation device, the ‘Animotus’. Copies of this device were given to each audience member in order to guide them through a 112m2 dark space to large tactile structures accompanied by audio narration from the production’s plot. The Animotus was designed to provide unobtrusive navigation feedback over extended periods of time, via modification of its natural cube shape to simultaneously indicate proximity and heading information to navigational targets. Prepared by an interdisciplinary team of blind and sighted specialists, Flatland is part performance, part in-the-wild user study. Such an environment presents a unique opportunity for testing new forms of technology and theatre concepts with large numbers of participants (94 in this case). The artistic aims of the project were to use sensory substitution facilitated exploration to investigate comparable cultural experiences for blind and sighted attendees. Technical goals were to experiment with novel haptic navigational concepts, which may be applied to various other scenarios, including typical outdoor pedestrian navigation. This short paper outlines the project aims, haptic technology design motivation and initial evaluation of resulting audience navigational ability and qualitative reactions to the Animotus.
Abstract Flatland was a large scale immersive theatre
production completed in March 2015 that made use of a novel
shape-changing haptic navigation device, the ‘Animotus’.
Copies of this device were given to each audience member in
order to guide them through a 112m
dark space to large tactile
structures accompanied by audio narration from the
production’s plot. The Animotus was designed to provide
unobtrusive navigation feedback over extended periods of time,
via modification of its natural cube shape to simultaneously
indicate proximity and heading information to navigational
targets. Prepared by an interdisciplinary team of blind and
sighted specialists, Flatland is part performance, part in-the-
wild user study. Such an environment presents a unique
opportunity for testing new forms of technology and theatre
concepts with large numbers of participants (94 in this case).
The artistic aims of the project were to use sensory substitution
facilitated exploration to investigate comparable cultural
experiences for blind and sighted attendees. Technical goals
were to experiment with novel haptic navigational concepts,
which may be applied to various other scenarios, including
typical outdoor pedestrian navigation. This short paper
outlines the project aims, haptic technology design motivation
and initial evaluation of resulting audience navigational ability
and qualitative reactions to the Animotus.
I. I
Comparable experiences for visually impaired (VI) and
sighted individuals are rarely achieved in daily life. Often ‘VI
accessible’ versions of cultural experiences (e.g. in
entertainment or the arts) provide large amounts of visual
stimulus to people who can see, but limited audio
descriptions to those who are VI. Examples include movies
with additional audio descriptions. This creates a
discrepancy, where the medium on display has been designed
for sighted persons and later retrofitted for a VI minority.
In our work we seek to explore the possibility of
designing immersive promenade theatre experiences for both
sighted and VI groups. To achieve this aim we make use of a
pitch black environment and haptic sensory augmentation
technology. This aims to level the sensory abilities of both
groups (VI and sighted) as they are placed together into an
unfamiliar space, the exploration of which is encouraged via
the theatrical setting. Promenade / immersive theatre is
defined as theatre where the audience can move about to
explore the piece rather than remaining stationary.
*Research supported by NESTA Digital Fund, London, UK.
A. J. Spiers and A. M. Dollar are with the Department of Mechanical
Engineering, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA. (phone: 203-
432-4380, e-mail:,
J. van der Linden and S. Wiseman are with the Pervasive Interaction
Lab, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK (
M. Oshodi is with the Extant theatre company, London, UK
As in most theatre, Flatland features a plot and characters.
These were adapted from the 19
century novella Flatland,
by E. Abbot [1]. An initial portion of this plot is explained by
an actor during an introductory session. Subsequent elements
of the plot may then be uncovered by locating zones in the
performance space, each of which is defined by a large tactile
set piece and audio narrative (delivered through wireless
bone conducting headphones). In order to locate these set
pieces and uncover the story, a haptic sensory substitution
device, the Animotus (Figure 1), is provided to each audience
member. This device was designed with the intention of
presenting highly intuitive navigation assistance without
distracting from the overall theater experience. This led to the
choice of haptic shape changing feedback as the interface for
simultaneously communicating both heading and proximity
to the next zone, with continuous 100Hz updates. Intuitive
and unobtrusive mutli-DOF haptic feedback is believed to be
useful outside of this specific application, to enable a discrete
alternatives to screen and audio based pedestrian navigation
in real world scenarios, for both sighted and VI persons.
Though this project is limited to a specific indoor
environment, the navigation technology was designed with
consideration of real world application to unstructured
spaces, such as typical outdoor (and indoor) pedestrian
navigation scenarios, complete with the constraints of
sidewalks, corridors and obstacles. The technology was also
designed to be ‘inclusive’, to benefit both VI and sighted
individuals when the environment is not necessarily dark.
Though the advent of GPS and smartphones have made
navigation guidance while walking outdoors commonplace,
the main interface for this technology is screen based. In [2]
this was considered (for sighted persons) as potentially
distracting from various hazards and a possible cause of
increasing mobile phone related accidents [3]. While screens
are inaccessible for severely VI persons, the use of audio
instructions during GPS navigation is used by many.
Flatland: An Immersive Theatre Experience Centered on
Shape Changing Haptic Navigation Technology
Adam J. Spiers Member, IEEE, Janet van Der Linden,
Maria Oshodi, Sarah Wiseman, Aaron M. Dollar, Senior Member, IEEE
Figure 1: (Left) Audience members equipped with localization
equipment, bone conducting headphones and Animotus (right)
However, the requirement of headphones in noisy urban
environments can mask the ambient sounds used to avoid
hazards, appreciate one’s surroundings or communicate with
others [4]. Haptic interfaces may provide a more appropriate
stimulus to both VI and sighted groups, due to the less critical
role of touch during walking. Indeed, the most successful and
long-standing VI mobility aids are the guide cane and guide
dog, which both provide feedback by haptic cues delivered
through the cane’s handle or dog’s harness. The appeal and
benefit of haptic navigation to sighted individuals is also
apparent in widespread consumer interest in the ‘Taptic’
interface of the recent Apple watch, which is capable to
provide haptic navigation instructions [5].
Various haptic navigation and motion guidance systems
have been proposed, often for reasons similar to those
described above. The potential of haptics to provide sensory
augmentation without drawing on critical attentional
resources (i.e. sound and, if applicable, sight) has great
appeal [6]. Though many haptic sensations exist, the authors
of [7] highlighted that a frequent choice for motion guidance
applications has been vibrotactile feedback (e.g. [4][6][8]).
This technology has many benefits (the actuators are small,
lightweight, inexpensive, low power and easy to control).
Vibrotactile feedback is now standard feature in mobile
phones where it is primarily used to signify discrete and
(generally) infrequent events, such as a new message or
incoming call. In [9] the success of such feedback is
attributed to the ‘firm fit with the usability constraints of
signifying alerts’. Other authors [10] have suggested that
alerts are not always an appropriate form of information
delivery and that designers of technology should consider a
haptic stimuli’s place in a user’s attention spectrum, so that it
does not distract from more critical tasks. In our work, the
goal was to present users with frequent navigation guidance
over potentially long periods of time (up to 50 minutes),
without interfering with the user’s appreciation of the
Flatland theatre experience. As such, ‘alerting’ stimuli were
deliberately avoided, as it was felt that frequent high-
attention feedback over such a time scale may become
distracting or tiresome, as also observed in [8]–[10].
In [7] and [10] a number of wearable or chair-mounted tactile
feedback devices are proposed that aimed to avoid ‘alerting’
sensations of other feedback modes. In [2], Hemmert et al.
proposed the use of shape changing handheld objects to
indicate direction in a simulated navigational task (users
matched the indicated direction by turning an office chair).
Considering such modalities as inspiration, the Animotus
(Figure 1) was designed as a handheld haptic device that
could provide constant navigational guidance over extended
periods of time by changing shape in the user’s hand.
The Animotus was developed through multiple diverse
prototypes, focus sessions with sighted and visually impaired
members of the Flatland production team and laboratory
based user testing (the outcomes of which will be reported on
in separate papers). The final version of the device and its
associated articulation is illustrated in Figure 2. When in its
home pose (Figure 2a), the device shape approximates a cube
with rounded edges and dimensions (60×60×40mm). The top
half of this cube is able to independently rotate (±30deg) and
translate (11.75mm) relative to the bottom half. This allows
the device to indicate direction (heading) and distance
(proximity) to a navigational target. An embossed triangle on
the top of the Animotus is a simple tactile feature to allow a
user to identify the top and front of the device, when it cannot
be seen. A tactile groove that traverses the front face aids
heading perception by aligning when heading error is 0deg.
By holding the device in their upturned (supinated) hand
(Figure 1) a user naturally wraps their fingers around the
front and sides of the device in a power grasp. The height of
the device was selected to permit this grasp to be achieved
for a variety of hand sizes. In this grasp the bottom half of the
device is grounded on the user’s palm, while the relative pose
of the top half may be felt by the user’s fingers. The force
and torque exertion capability of the linear and rotational
DOF are 25N and 1Nm respectively, allowing the device to
exert sufficient forces to achieve motion, even when gripped
tightly. The device weighs 105g and is 3D printed in ABS.
Eight of these devices were built, at a cost of $75 each. Each
Animotus is controlled by an X-OSC wireless
microcontroller and powered by a LiPo battery (120g
combined weight). These are worn by the user in a pouch and
connected to the Animotus via cables, though future
iterations may integrate the components into the device.
Within the Flatland environment (16 x 7 meters), each
Animotus served to direct its audience member from one
zone to the next, allowing them to gradually uncover the
production’s plot. An illustration of the environment is
presented in Figure 3. Note that most zones have separate
exits and entrances, though not all audience members
adhered to these. Each Animotus responds to the position and
orientation of its user (audience member) by continuously
updating its extension and rotation axes (at 100Hz), with
respect to the current navigational target. Audience position
was measured via a Ubisense localization system, via small
active radio tags (weight 40g) worn by each audience
member. Orientation was measured via a wrist worn, tilt
compensated magnetometer. Together these systems allowed
wireless localization of individuals with 0.4m / 2deg
accuracy at 100Hz. A centralized navigation computer
compared user position and orientation with the co-ordinates
Figure 2: The Animotus a) in home pose, b) illustrating rotation
and linear extension.
These DOF may
individually actuated.
Figure 3: The performance environment, showing (E) zone
entrances, (X) exits, (F) final exit and physical zone structures.
of the virtual navigational targets (the entrances to the
zones). This generated appropriate actuator commands, sent
wirelessly to each Animotus. Heading feedback was
provided at 1:1 mapping of user heading error to Animotus
rotation angle (saturated at ±30deg). Proximity feedback was
scaled to proximity error at approximately 1.65mm of
actuator feedback (up to 11.75mm) per meter of proximity
error. Once a user had found their current target zone, their
Animotus assumed the dormant ‘home’ pose, allowing the
user to explore the zone and listen to the audio narrative. A
large pocket on suits worn by the audience (also part of the
narrative) allowed the Animotus to be temporarily stowed, if
the user wanted to use both hands to explore a zone. The
Animotus would begin guiding the audience to their next
target zone once they left their current zone. Each audience
member was assigned a different zone order to avoid crowds
forming. All audience members were simultaneously guided
to an exit at the end of the performance, for a plot conclusion.
Flatland was experienced by 94 individuals, 15 of whom
were VI. Evaluation was achieved quantitatively (through
logged localization data) and qualitatively (via interviews).
All audience members signed a consent form approved by a
University ethics board. Numerical analysis gave insight into
a large data set from a varied pool of individuals. Though the
Animotus was initially developed under controlled laboratory
conditions, Flatland provided an opportunity for in-the-wild
testing of this technology with users who were not
necessarily focused on completing an experimental study. Of
the 94 audience members, 82% were able to locate all zones
in the space, 12% (2 VI, 9 sighted) missed one zone and 6%
(2 VI, 4 sighted) missed more than one zone.
Analysis of localization data was completed on user
trajectories between zones, referred to as paths. For each path
it was possible to calculate metrics such as average walking
speed (user distance / time elapsed between zones) and
motion efficiency (Euclidean distance / User distance
between zones). 50% efficiency indicates the user has walked
twice as far as the Euclidean distance. For each participant,
the mean of each path metric was calculated. Histograms of
this are shown in Figure 4. Both metrics show a symmetric
distribution centered on 47.5% walking path efficiency and
average walking speed of 1.125m/s. This illustrates a wide
range of participant performance. In a yet unpublished lab
study, we found a 1DOF shape changing navigation device
from a previous 2010 immersive theatre performance [11] to
lead to an average path efficiency of 27%, thus indicating
navigation interface improvement. Typical human walking
speed is 1.4m/s [12], illustrating a surprisingly small average
reduction in pace. Analysis of individual paths is underway.
Audience reaction to the Animotus varied greatly. Some
relied fully on the device, noting surprise at how intuitively
they were able to use it and commenting that without it they
would have been lost. One individual found the device too
controlling, preferring to ignore its instructions. Though no
attempt was made to make the Animotus seem like a person
or animal, audience members instilled emotional and
characterful traits, for instance referring to it as being “cute”,
“hesitant”, “a companion” and “like a pet”.
This work-in-progress paper has focused on the haptic
navigation interface used to guide audience members
between zones in the Flatland immersive theatre experience.
This project has highlighted the role haptics can play in
unifying cultural experiences across individuals of different
sensory abilities while also demonstrating the results of in-
the-wild testing of a unique shape changing device. Future
work includes in-depth analysis of the extensive data
generated from Flatland in addition to application of the
Animotus to other navigational scenarios. For example, the
device may provide haptic guidance to a distant destination
via successive waypoints or route (path) following. Attention
loading comparisons of this system with other navigation
interfaces would also be interesting.
[1] E. A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Oxford
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91–5, Aug. 2013.
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20, no. 3, pp. 354–363, May 2008.
[10] Y. Zheng and J. B. Morrell, “Haptic actuator design parameters that
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[11] J. van der Linden, Y. Rogers, M. Oshodi, A. Spiers, D. McGoran, R.
Cronin, and P. O’Dowd, “Haptic reassurance in the pitch black for an
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Figure 4: Histograms of mean motion efficiency and walking
speed per participant (n = 94). Typical speed is based on [12].
... In addition to quantitative analysis of navigation data, 99 qualitative analysis of audience interviews (recorded after the 100 Flatland event) are also provided. This paper is an extension 101 of an initial "work-in-progress" extended abstract presented 102 shortly after the completion of the production [16]. 103 ...
... As such, straps were 349 deliberately avoided with the Animotus, with the tactile land-350 marks instead providing easy hand alignment cues. In Flatland, 351 participants stored the Animotus in pockets when not in use 352 [16], similar to a mobile phone. ...
... In this paper, we will primarily focus on this navigational aspect 97 of Flatland, which is also unusual in its "in-the-wild" theater ap- Flatland event) are also provided. This paper is an extension 101 of an initial "work-in-progress" extended abstract presented 102 shortly after the completion of the production [16]. ...
Full-text available
Flatland was an immersive “in-the-wild” experimental theater and technology project, undertaken with the goal of developing systems that could assist “real-world” pedestrian navigation for both vision-impaired (VI) and sighted individuals, while also exploring inclusive and equivalent cultural experiences for VI and sighted audiences. A novel shape-changing handheld haptic navigation device, the “Animotus,” was developed. The device has the ability to modify its form in the user's grasp to communicate heading and proximity to navigational targets. Flatland provided a unique opportunity to comparatively study the use of novel navigation devices with a large group of individuals (79 sighted, 15 VI) who were primarily attending a theater production rather than an experimental study. In this paper, we present our findings on comparing the navigation performance (measured in terms of efficiency, average pace, and time facing targets) and opinions of VI and sighted users of the Animotus as they negotiated the 112 m2 production environment. Differences in navigation performance were nonsignificant across VI and sighted individuals and a similar range of opinions on device function and engagement spanned both groups. We believe more structured device familiarization, particularly for VI users, could improve performance and incorrect technology expectations (such as obstacle avoidance capability), which influenced overall opinion. This paper is intended to aid the development of future inclusive technologies and cultural experiences.
... The Animotus was previously evaluated 'in-the-wild' by blind and sighted users as an integral part of a large scale immersive and inclusive theatre production, Flatland [47] ( The production was created in collaboration with a VI theatre group Extant, based on an 1884 novella [48]. ...
... Though Flatland led to a wealth of encouraging user insights and navigation data [47], the in-the-wild / theatrical nature of the application did not permit the level of experimental control granted via laboratory testing. In this current paper, specific analysis of the Animotus' multi-DOF, shape-changing interface modality is experimentally evaluated via navigation tasks. ...
... In this current paper, specific analysis of the Animotus' multi-DOF, shape-changing interface modality is experimentally evaluated via navigation tasks. The utilized indoor environment negates distraction by environmental factors and inter-participant encounters, while also increasing localization accuracy [47]. This allows isolation of specific variables, while the other conditions are maintained. ...
Full-text available
Shape-changing interfaces are a category of device capable of altering their form in order to facilitate communication of information. In this work we present a shape-changing device that has been designed for navigation assistance. ‘The Animotus’(previously, ‘The Haptic Sandwich’),resembles a cube with an articulated upper half that is able to rotate and extend (translate) relative to the bottom half, which is fixed in the user’s grasp. This rotation and extension, generally felt via the user’s fingers, is used to represent heading and proximity to navigational targets. The device is intended to provide an alternative to screen or audio based interfaces for visually impaired, hearing impaired, deaf blindand sighted pedestrians. The motivation and design of the haptic device is presented, followed by the results of a navigation experiment that aimed to determine the role of each device DOF, in terms of facilitating guidance. An additional device, ‘The Haptic Taco’, which modulated its volume in response to target proximity(negating directional feedback),was also compared. Results indicate that while the heading (rotational) DOF benefited motion efficiency, the proximity (translational) DOF benefited velocity. Combination of the two DOF improved overall performance. The volumetric Taco performed comparably to the Animotus’ extension DOF.
... The device was effectively used by 94 sighted and VI persons in the 2015 immersive theatre production, Flatland (www., at which point it was re-named, The Animotus [18]. Participants using the Animotus in Flatland demonstrated much better navigational capability than those who used the Haptic Lotus in The Question. ...
... In the remainder of the paper we discuss related work, consider the design of the Haptic Taco device, in relation to the Haptic Lotus, present a navigational experiment comparing these devices and finally relate the results to observations of the Animotus, the 2DOF shape changing interface used in Flatland [18]. Finally we indicate directions of future work. ...
... The Haptic Taco (Figure 1) builds on the expansion methodology of the Lotus, by aiming to improve the ability of participants to recognize variations in device size. In particular the Taco is inspired by the higher forces and rigid, multi-segment body of the 2 DOF Haptic Sandwich / Animotus, which is described in [17] [18]. Specifically, the Taco replaces the compliance and underactuation of the Lotus with a rigid shell mechanism and fully actuated transmission, capable of exerting larger bi-directional forces. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
This paper presents a minimalistic handheld haptic interface designed to provide pedestrian navigation assistance via the intuitive and unobtrusive stimulus of shape-changing. The new device, named the Haptic Taco, explores a novel region of robotic interfaces which we believe to have benefits over other communication methods. In previous work, we demonstrated the use of a 2DOF shape changing interface for navigation without the use of sight. In this paper we seek to explore the potential of minimal 1DOF interfaces, whose simplicity may increase intuitiveness and performance despite conveying less information. The Haptic Taco utilizes the same ‘variable volume’ concept as a previous device, the Haptic Lotus (2010), but with reduced body compliance and higher force exertion capability. Both devices modulate their perceived volume in relation to proximity to a navigational target (a destination or waypoint). As users walk within an environment, they also attempt to minimize the device volume, finding targets via an embodied ‘steepest descent’ method. Experimental comparison of the Lotus and Taco in a target-finding study revealed that the Taco interface increased motion path efficiency by 24% over the Lotus, to 47% average efficiency. This result is highly comparable to the mean motion efficiency of 43.6-48% observed in prior experiments with the 2DOF shape-changing interface, the Animotus. The findings indicate the potential for minimalistic interfaces in this emerging field.
... Alternative (non-vibratory) ungrounded haptic interfaces for certainly do exist, though they have been less popular in the field of motion guidance [6]. In recent work we developed The Animotus, a novel shape-changing navigation interface (also called The Haptic Sandwich) [11], [12]. This device was motivated by the idea that shape appreciation is a subtle, natural and frequently encountered innate human capability [13], [14]. ...
... We make use of two novel navigation interfaces, the Animotus, a shape-changing interface previously introduced in [11], [12] and the Haptic Cricket, a new vibrotactile based interface designed for equivalence to the Animotus. Both systems provide the same two quantities of navigational information: heading and proximity to targets. ...
... The Animotus was designed as handheld, rather than wearable interface, as we feel that, just like a common smartphone with a navigation application, it is convienient for the user to be able to put the device in a bag or pocket when not navigating (which proved beneficial in the theatre application described in [12]). We consider the success of the mobile phone as indicative of the benefits and appeal of handheld technology that can be stowed when not in use. ...
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By targeting haptic sensory channels when walking, pedestrian navigation systems (as found in smartphone apps) have the potential to allow both visually impaired and sighted users to pay greater attention to their surroundings, compared to typical audio or visual based feedback. In line with this idea, we have proposed mechanotactile shape-changing interfaces as an alternative to the more commonly used haptic modality of vibrotactile feedback. In this paper, we evaluate the potential for haptic guidance in a realistic outdoor navigation task. Participants were guided along pre-determined footpath routes in a ∼3,500m2 outdoor public environment, via ‘equivalent’ handheld shape-changing and vibrotactile feedback devices, capable of providing heading and proximity information. Localization was based on real-time GPS data provided by a smartphone. Many other pedestrians (not part of the study) shared the space and had to be avoided, as in typical urban settings. All participants located all waypoints with both devices, walking between 270m–600m per trial. Walking efficiency was similar for both devices, though participants took over twice as long (on average) to complete the routes with the vibrotactile device. In a questionnaire, participants preferred the shape-changing interface, considering it more intuitive and pleasant to use than the vibrotactile system. Though haptics can certainly be used for practical navigation, the relatively low resolution of unprocessed GPS positioning can lead to erroneous instructions that are harder for a (sighted) user to notice and correct than in screen based systems utilizing visual maps.
... It has matching square top and bottom sections (the 'bread') which sandwich the transmissions and actuators (the 'filling'). In a recent application of the device to a large scale immersive theatre production, it was re-named The Animotus [11]. ...
... The cost to build a device is approximately $75 (USD). This enabled several devices to be easily created for an application involving nearly 100 participants [11]. ...
... The sensors detect the position of wireless UbiTags via ultra-wideband (UWB) radio signals. Though limited to a maximum 15cm resolution, the Ubisense system is scalable to much larger indoor and outdoor environments, which suit additional requirements of these investigations, such as the multi-user study in a darkened 115m 2 space described in [11]. Though placing the Ubitag on or near the handheld haptic devices would have been preferable, fastening the Ubitag to the top of a hat provided optimum localization results by avoiding signal occlusion by the user's body. ...
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Full-text available
This paper presents the Haptic Sandwich, a handheld robotic device that designed to provide navigation instructions to pedestrians through a novel shape changing modality. The device resembles a cube with an articulated upper half that is able to rotate and translate (extend) relative to the bottom half, which is grounded in the user’s hand. The poses assumed by the device simultaneously correspond to heading and proximity to a navigational target. The Haptic Sandwich provides an alternative to screen and/or audio based navigation technologies for both visually impaired and sighted pedestrians. Unlike many robotic or haptic navigational solutions, the haptic sandwich is discrete and unobtrusive in terms of form and sensory stimulus. Due to the novel nature of the interface, two user studies were undertaken to validate the concept and device. In the first experiment, stationary participants attempted to identify poses assumed by the device, which was hidden from view. 80% of poses were correctly identified and 17.5% had the minimal possible error. Multi-DOF errors accounted for only 1.1% of all responses. Perception accuracy of the rotation and extension DOF was significantly different. In the second study, participants attempted to locate a sequence of invisible navigational targets while walking with the device. Good navigational ability was demonstrated after minimal training. All participants were able to locate all targets, utilizing both DOF. Walking path efficiency was between 32%-56%. In summary, the paper presents the design of a novel shape changing haptic user interface intended to be intuitive and unobtrusive. The interface is then validated by stationary perceptual experiments and an embodied (walking) target finding pilot study.
... Prior to Flatland, the Animotus was tested in indoor laboratory-based experiments [17,18] alongside comparative expanding devices [21]. The four Animotus created for Flatland were used by 94 audience members (both VI and sighted) in 40-60min performances without failure [22]. Audience navigation paths and responses from group interviews were used for quantitative and qualitative analysis [20,27]. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Since the 1960s, technologists have worked to develop systems that facilitate independent navigation by vision-impaired (VI) pedestrians. These devices vary in terms of conveyed information and feedback modality. Unfortunately, many such prototypes never progress beyond laboratory testing. Conversely, smartphone-based navigation systems for sighted pedestrians have grown in robustness and capabilities, to the point of now being ubiquitous. How can we leverage the success of sighted navigation technology, which is driven by a larger global market, as a way to progress VI navigation systems? We believe one possibility is to make common devices that benefit both VI and sighted individuals, by providing information in a way that does not distract either user from their tasks or environment. To this end we have developed physical interfaces that eschew visual, audio or vibratory feedback, instead relying on the natural human ability to perceive the shape of a handheld object.
... This location was determined by a technician controlling the destinations for all four participants during the performances. Further technical details can be found in [24]. ...
Conference Paper
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Immersive theatre is a growing trend within theatre entertainment: audience members can now wander around performances and choose how the story unfolds in front of them. Technology can be used to create novel, multi-modal experiences for audiences in these performances; but when the rules of such an experience are ill-defined, how do users react to this technology? We present an evaluation of 25 performances of an immersive, in the dark performance. Issues of control can arise in situations where technology becomes an important part of such a performance. Participants take and relinquish control in three key areas: navigation, exploration and attention during the performance, and this affects their perception of both technology and the piece itself. We discuss how technology can play a positive role in immersive theatre and other cultural settings, yet its use must be carefully choreographed to ensure the audience experience matches the intended goal.
In the past, white canes, guide dogs, and guide helpers have served to assist visually impaired people when walking outdoors. However, these assistance methods have various limitations for extended and suitable usage. Therefore, our laboratory herein proposes a route guidance device that signals commands to the end-user by giving a sense of force to the thumb. The guide device is driven on the common plane with two degrees of freedom by using an XY stage with omnidirectional driving gear. The current prototype presents challenges for its practical implementation as a smooth, safe and reliable route guidance system. In this study, we conducted experiments aiming to optimize the combination of the update position of the intermediate target point and the presentation cycle in blindfolded clear-eyed people.
This paper presents the design, control and experimental validation of a haptic compass, designed as a guiding device for all environments. The proposed device uses the principle of asymmetric torques. Its design is based on a direct drive motor and a pre-calibrated open-loop control, which allows the generation of stimuli in a wide range of frequencies. User studies are presented and show optimum effectiveness in the frequency range 5􀀀15 Hz and for torques over 40 mNm. The use of a haptic feedback proportional to the angle error is then shown to significantly improve the results. An experimental validation by a group of subjects with the portable device using these stimuli is reported. The results show that all subjects met all route objectives with small lateral deviations (avg. 0:39 m).
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Assistive devices are a key aspect in wearable systems for biomedical applications, as they represent potential aids for people with physical and sensory disabilities that might lead to improvements in the quality of life. This chapter focuses on wearable assistive devices for the blind. It intends to review the most significant work done in this area, to present the latest approaches for assisting this population and to understand universal design concepts for the development of wearable assistive devices and systems for the blind. Keywordsassistive technology-reading/mobility aids-wearable devices and systems
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Common navigational aids used by blind travelers during large-scale navigation divert attention away from important cues of the immediate environment (i.e., approaching vehicles). Sensory augmentation devices, relying on principles similar to those at work in sensory substitution, can potentially bypass the bottleneck of attention through sub-cognitive implementation of a set of rules coupling motor actions with sensory stimulation. We provide a late blind subject with a vibrotactile belt that continually signals the direction of magnetic north. The subject completed a set of behavioral tests before and after an extended training period. The tests were complemented by questionnaires and interviews. This newly supplied information improved performance on different time scales. In a pointing task we demonstrate an instant improvement of performance based on the signal provided by the device. Furthermore, the signal was helpful in relevant daily tasks, often complicated for the blind, such as keeping a direction over longer distances or taking shortcuts in familiar environments. A homing task with an additional attentional load demonstrated a significant improvement after training. The subject found the directional information highly expedient for the adjustment of his inner maps of familiar environments and describes an increase in his feeling of security when exploring unfamiliar environments with the belt. The results give evidence for a firm integration of the newly supplied signals into the behavior of this late blind subject with better navigational performance and more courageous behavior in unfamiliar environments. Most importantly, the complementary information provided by the belt lead to a positive emotional impact with enhanced feeling of security. The present experimental approach demonstrates the positive potential of sensory augmentation devices for the help of handicapped people.
Conference Paper
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An immersive theatre experience was designed to raise awareness and question perceptions of 'blindness', through enabling both sighted and blind members to experience a similar reality. A multimodal experience was created, comprising ambient sounds and narratives -- heard through headphones -- and an assortment of themed tactile objects, intended to be felt. In addition, audience members were each provided with a novel haptic device that was designed to enhance their discovery of a pitch-black space. An in the wild study of the cultural experience showed how blind and sighted audience members had different 'felt' experiences, but that neither was a lesser one. Furthermore, the haptic device was found to encourage enactive exploration and provide reassurance of the environment for both sighted and blind people, rather than acting simply as a navigation guide. We discuss the potential of using haptic feedback to create cultural experiences for both blind and sighted people; rethinking current utilitarian framing of it as assistive technology.
Conference Paper
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This paper compares two novel physical information displays, both of which allow for haptic, non-invasive, non-audiovisual information display: a shape-changing device and a weight-shifting device. As for their suitability in mobile navigation applications, the two haptic systems are compared against each other, and also against a GUI-based solution, which serves as a baseline. The results of the study indicate that the shape- and weight-based displays are less accurate than the GUI-based variant, but may be suitable for simple directional guidance (e.g. walking ahead, or turning left or right) and beneficial in terms of reaction times to visual cues (e.g. traffic lights). This paper concludes with an outlook towards potential future research activities in this field.
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The metabolic energy cost of walking is determined, to a large degree, by body mass, but it is not clear how body composition and mass distribution influence this cost. We tested the hypothesis that walking would be most expensive for obese women compared with obese men and normal-weight women and men. Furthermore, we hypothesized that for all groups, preferred walking speed would correspond to the speed that minimized the gross energy cost per distance. We measured body composition, maximal oxygen consumption, and preferred walking speed of 39 (19 class II obese, 20 normal weight) women and men. We also measured oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production while the subjects walked on a level treadmill at six speeds (0.50-1.75 m/s). Both obesity and sex affected the net metabolic rate (W/kg) of walking. Net metabolic rates of obese subjects were only approximately 10% greater (per kg) than for normal-weight subjects, and net metabolic rates for women were approximately 10% greater than for men. The increase in net metabolic rate at faster walking speeds was greatest in obese women compared with the other groups. Preferred walking speed was not different across groups (1.42 m/s) and was near the speed that minimized gross energy cost per distance. Surprisingly, mass distribution (thigh mass/body mass) was not related to net metabolic rate, but body composition (% fat) was (r2= 0.43). Detailed biomechanical studies of walking are needed to investigate whether obese individuals adopt novel energy saving mechanisms during walking.
Tactile motion guidance systems aim to direct the user's movement toward a target pose or trajectory by delivering tactile cues through lightweight wearable actuators. This study evaluates 10 forms of tactile feedback for guidance of wrist rotation to understand the traits that influence the effectiveness of such systems. We present five wearable actuators capable of tapping, dragging across, squeezing, twisting, or vibrating against the user's wrist; each actuator can be controlled via steady or pulsing drive algorithms. Ten subjects used each form of feedback to perform three unsighted movement tasks: directional response, position targeting, and trajectory following. The results show that directional responses are fastest when direction is conveyed through the location of the tactile stimulus or steady lateral skin stretch. Feedback that clearly conveys movement direction enables subjects to reach target positions most quickly, though tactile magnitude cues (steady intensity and especially pulsing frequency) can also be used when direction is difficult to discern. Subjects closely tracked arbitrary trajectories only when both movement direction and cue magnitude were subjectively rated as very easy to discern. The best overall performance was achieved by the actuator that repeatedly taps on the subject's wrist on the side toward which they should turn.
Most haptic feedback devices to date are designed to be alerts or warnings that capture a user's attention. This can be disruptive or annoying when the user needs to focus on another task of higher importance. We believe that haptic feedback that elicits positive affect can manage attention capture across a wider spectrum than feedback with negative affect. In this study, we explore the affective response to several haptic actuator designs for better management of user attention. We evaluate six parameters that may impact affect: stimulus location on the body, actuation type, actuation intensity, actuation profile, actuator material and actuator geometry. A total of 30 subjects participated in this study (average age 24±3 years). Of the six parameters, we found that actuation profile had the most significant impact on affect. We also found that devices with negative affect were better able to capture the user's attention. Due to the variability in the verbalized preferences among subjects, we propose outfitting all haptic actuators with an intensity control. We anticipate that the results of this study will guide designers in modifying key parameters of haptic devices to appropriately manage user attention.
Research on vibrotactile displays for mobile devices has developed and evaluated complex multi-dimensional tactile stimuli with promising results. However, the possibility that user distraction, an inevitable component of mobile interaction, may mask (or obscure) vibrotactile perception has not been thoroughly considered. This omission is addressed here with three studies comparing recognition performance on nine tactile icons between control and distracter conditions. The icons were two dimensional (three body sites against three roughness values) and displayed to the wrist. The distracter tasks were everyday activities: Transcription, mouse-based Data-entry and Walking. The results indicated performance significantly dropped in the distracter condition (by between 5% and 20%) in all studies. Variations in the results suggest different tasks may exert different masking effects. This work indicates that distraction should be considered in the design of vibrotactile cues and that the results reported in lab based studies are unlikely to represent real world performance.
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