The U.S Army is famous for their military gadgets that are used to hunt down enemies and also navigate a battlefield at night. They began by using night goggles. But there were complaints about these goggles for being noticeable by the enemies. Another problem is that they had no way to track their exact location or the direction to head to. So, they started installing Global Positioning System (GPS) enabled devices so that the soldiers can find their way through the dark. But, this technology also has its drawbacks as the light from its display can easily help his enemy to sort out his position. Besides, the combat trainer will find it difficult to handle a weapon and the gadget at the same time.

All these problems have urged the researches at the Army Research Office to develop a new gadget that will help the soldiers to easily feel the way through the dark. The basic idea is to get directions by the sense of touch. Thus, this device is known to be haptic in nature.

The device consists of a vibrating belt along with 8 small actuators. These actuators are named as tactors and are placed in 8 different positions of the belt. The movement of these actuators helps the soldier to find his way through the dark. The actuators are fed with the input from GPS navigation, a digital compass, and an accelerometer. Thus, the device will work correctly even if the soldier is lying down in the ground. The GPS device will have a closed display and thus will not light up in the dark. The digital compass will help in correcting the device if the soldier has lost his way. The accelerometer will work as a transducer for the actuators.

Given below is the image of a vibrating belt developed by the army. Take a look.

Haptic Vibrating Belt
Haptic Vibrating Belt

The actuators are set to vibrate at 250 Hz. The vibration will have both front and back movements. The researchers have also developed a unique Morse code for the device so that the soldiers know their direction. If a soldier is to stop immediately, the actuators from all directions will provide a vibration into his body. If he has to move right, there will be a movement of the actuators from his body to the outside direction. Thus, there will be different kinds of vibrations for each direction.

The research team includes Elmar Schmeisser and Linda Elliott and they have been experimenting with the vibrating belt on many army personnel’s. The initial training was found to be difficult as a completely new tactic had to be used by the soldiers. They had to pay attention to the field as well as the device at the same time. During a mission, the personnel’s have to answer back to questions about from their superiors and also contact the quarters to clear their doubts. Apart from this, they also had to sort out their enemy locations and destroy them. After a few days of training, they just loved the new gadget as they did not have to take away their eyes to track the location on the GPS and thus remain unarmed at the same time.

A demo of the vibrating haptic belt will be illustrated at the Human-Computer Interaction conference in Orlando in July. The researchers hope to get the attention of many so that the gadget will gain more popularity.


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