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April 13, 2015

‘Human Sat Nav’ guides users with electrodes

Germans use electric to stimulate muscles and send walkers in the right direction.

By Joao Lima

German scientists at the University of Hannover have developed the first human satellite navigation which will guide the elderly home, fire-fighters through burning buildings, help tourists navigate strange cities and people on dates to find their partner.

The solution controls leg muscles via tiny electric currents to stimulate the sartorius two-joint muscle, which runs from the inside of the knee to the top of the outer thigh.

The sensor is able to quickly direct the user to go right or left without the need to stop walking.

The contraction, which happens on the upswing, feels like a gentle tug in one direction and is easy to override.

Max Pfeiffer, one of the developers of the project at the German university, told The Daily Telegraph that he believes the invention will allow tourists to navigate unfamiliar cities without taking their eyes off the sights, because they no longer need to follow directions.

Tests conducted in a park in Hannover guided students using a mobile phone to send Bluetooth signals to the electrodes.

Scientists are already working on the next stage of the project, which will enable users to hook up the device to GPS so a destination could be programmed in.

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Other than guiding walkers, the sat nav could also be used in sports, crowd control, or to direct fire-fighters in burning buildings. The practical side of the gadget could "facilitate serendipitous encounters in public places" and be connected to dating apps to help users find each other in the future.

Mr Pfeiffer said: "In sports for example, it could steer long distance runners via different jogging trails on different days for increased variety and enjoyment.

"New variants of team sports may be devised in which the coach or an external player may influence the moves of the team.

"Imagine visitors of a large sports stadium or theatre being guided to their place or being evacuated from a stadium in the most efficient way.

"It may help disorientated elderly people to find their way home."

Volunteers that took on the Hannover’s park test day, said change of direction while walking happened subconsciously, without affecting stride or gait, although some noticed a strange tingling sensation.

Walking through puddles or inadvertently stepping on people sitting on the ground, were some of the concerns raised by those who tested the system as the obstacles were no longer being steered by a human.

Researchers however, vowed to develop a system that will make users stop looking down at their phones all the time to get directions, so they can appreciate what is surrounding them.

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