Electric Shocks to the Leg Could Help You Navigate Without Looking Up

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Looking up to find the way is so 2014. Instead, a team of researchers suggests, small electrodes on your thighs could be used to direct you as wander the city streets—a technique that they refer to as 'human cruise control.'

The idea is simple. The researchers place electrodes on the sartorius muscles—the ones that run across your thighs—which are fired by a commercial muscle stimulation system controlled via Bluetooth. Using an app, its possible to send an electrical pulse into the muscle to encourage the wearer to turn in one direction or other. The researchers tested the technique by following participants around a park, zapping their legs to make them turn left or right remotely. The research is to be presented at the CHI 2015 human-computer interaction conference which is taking place in Seoul next week.

And... it works. While the pulses are small—not enough to jolt your leg if you were sat still, according the researchers—all participants turned accurately and consistently when their thighs were stimulated. Some participants turned more distinctly than others when stimulated, but all did turn. The researchers now plan to roll the technology into an app that can accurately guide people around a preplanned route—rather than following them—as well as tweaking the system so it can provide a similar effect to those with different responses to the same stimulation.

The idea of strapping electrons to your legs of a morning may seem off-putting, but the researchers have a bold suggestion to that reluctance: they suggest integrating the technology into underwear. Just how much do you want personal walking cruise control? [Technology Review]

Image by Skip under Creative Commons license