Good Vibrations: How Tactile Cues Can Assist Navigation

Navigation Lecture Series

A lecture by Lynette A. Jones, Senior Research Scientist, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lecture is free and open to the public. Doors open at 4:45 p.m.; lecture begins at 5 p.m.

Tactile displays that use an array of small vibrating motors to stimulate the skin have been developed for a variety of purposes, including providing spatial cues to assist in navigation and as sensory substitution systems for those with visual, auditory, or vestibular impairments. These displays make use of the spatial and temporal processing properties of the skin, which rival those of the eyes and ears. The spatial coordinates of a vibrating motor on the skin are represented accurately in the central nervous system, so spatial information about the external world can be communicated via tactile stimulation. These tactile cues can indicate the location of an object in the environment—and by varying the pattern of activation of a number of motors it is possible to convey information regarding the direction of movement and the proximity of landmarks. In this talk, Jones will discuss the development and evaluation of tactile communication systems used to assist in navigation and to help maintain spatial orientation.

The navigation lecture series is part of the Academic Ventures program at the Radcliffe Institute. A larger, one-day public symposium on the topic took place on Friday, November 14, 2014.