Sentiri first made its debut in the fall (thanks, Engadget!), but this SXSW we broke out our haptic headband again to show the press–and, dun-dun-dun, the WORLD–what we’re working with. So…we’ll just leave this here.
A new way to navigate! Experience this groundbreaking, proximity-sensing headband, which uses haptic technology feedback to guide you, blindfolded, through a maze of obstacles.
Project Sentiri started with a simple question: How can we help people with visual impairments navigate their way around more easily, safely and efficiently? While there are existing methods (ranging from voice recognition to the traditional cane), there’s a huge opportunity to improve on the experience and make it more natural and consistent. We wanted to create a way that the user could more safely and easily navigate a chaotic environment like a noisy, busy city or a complicated route with multiple turns, curves or imprecise directions and destinations.
Sentiri is a proximity-sensing headband that gives the wearer the ability to “sense” their environment using haptic feedback via eight modules placed around the wearer’s head. Using sensors, small motors and BLE connectivity, Sentiri gives the wearer the ability to receive information and can direct them in a specific direction, tell them when they’ve arrived at a destination, or even notify them of upcoming obstacles in their way.
While a band similar to this has been built before, we wanted to create a version for the visually impaired that was more efficient, accurate and user-friendly than what previously existed. Also, this is the first headband to allow for third-party control or third-party services (like Google Maps). We also want to emphasize that while Sentiri started as a solution to a human problem, we’re also using it to explore a much bigger and globally applicable concept: haptic language.
- Microcontroller and battery – Run Sentiri
- Modules equipped with infrared sensors – Measure distance
- Small motors – Provide haptic feedback in the form of vibrations that increase in intensity as an object comes closer to the user
- BLE connectivity – Allows control from another device or application and can be used to communicate information to the headband
While the original intention for Sentiri was to assist people with visual impairments, there are plenty of other ways in which this tech could be implemented or adapted.
Take, for example, a form of discreet communication for the military. A headband such as this could be used to direct troops without the use of signals that are visible, audible or even detectable to anyone but the wearer. Sentiri could also be used as a hands-free navigation tool for any driver, who would no longer have to look down at their phone to check their route or deal with annoying voice commands. It’s a wearable that you barely have to interact with.
There’s also the opportunity to replace the infrared sensors with something like thermal detection with a tool like Panasonic’s Grid EYE Thermal Array Sensor. This would give any wearer—with or without a visual disability—the opportunity to “sense” in a way they never have before. (This is a particularly relatable and useful concept for anyone who’s ever tripped over their dog in the dark.)
Finally, in a general sense, Sentiri also serves as an exploration into the idea of creating a haptic language and the best way we can communicate with our skin—our largest organ. Essentially, this technology is taking Morse code and stepping it up by not only changing the frequency and amount of pulses to transmit data, but the intensity of the vibrations as well, and a mixture of these types of signals could be used to convey all kinds of information.