Creepy 'Sat Nav' Device Steers People With Tiny Jolts Of Electricity

04/14/2015 08:52 am ET | Updated May 07, 2015

German scientists have taken satellite navigation technology to a whole new level. They've developed a wearable device that guides people to their desired destination by zapping their legs with tiny jolts of electricity (see video above).

If that sounds a bit bizarre, the researchers say the new technology could be used to guide firefighters through burning buildings or take the elderly home when they get lost, The Telegraph reported.

And those aren't the only applications the scientists foresee.

"In sports for example, it could steer long-distance runners via different jogging trails on different days for increased variety and enjoyment," Max Pfeiffer, a researcher in the Human-Computer Interaction Group at the University of Hannover in Germany, who helped develop the navigation system, told The Telegraph. "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 theater being guided to their place or being evacuated from a stadium in the most efficient way."

Mobile phone mash-up. The scientists created a prototype device by connecting a mobile phone equipped with navigation software to an "electrical muscle stimulator" via Bluetooth. To make the wearer turn right or left, the device targets the leg's sartorius muscle (which runs down the length of the thigh) using electric pulses, causing the muscle to turn the leg in a certain direction. The pulses could easily be counteracted if the wearer decided to stay in control, Pfeiffer told The Huffington Post in an email.

The scientists successfully tested the prototype on 18 men and women between the ages of 18 and 27. It guided the subjects through a park filled with obstacles and uneven ground -- eliminating the need for people to constantly glance down at their smartphones for directions or take their eyes off of nearby sights.

Odd sensation. The people who tested the device noticed that the tiny electric signals caused their legs to change direction without their awareness -- and without affecting their gait, according to The Telegraph, but some also noticed a strange tingling sensation.

The device is in a very early stage of development, Pfeiffer said in the email. "I think it will not become commercial soon," he said, adding that a paper describing the device would be published next week at the CHI 2015 conference on human-computer interaction in Seoul, South Korea.

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