During the 2015 HackIllinois hackathon I designed and built a project to assist hikers and visually impaired customers. Labeled Project NorthSense, my device uses sensory augmentation (1) to give the user the ability to always know the direction of north.
Sensory augmentation is the result of the body slowly rejecting outside stimuli. For example, your brain automatically blocks out your nose from your field of vision. Our device, according to outside research, will eventually no longer be physically felt by the user, but instead will develop into a constant "presence", or sense.
Using a piece of "swag" from the hackathon, I formed an ankle bracelet that would be worn by the user. To the bracelet, I attached a series of small vibrating motors, an Arduino, and an electronic compass. The Arduino uses the data from the compass to detect north, and then determines which motor to trigger. Soft pulses are provided to the user to indicate the direction of north.
During the hackathon we only had time to implement north-facing functionality, but we started laying the foundation for a lot more. In future iterations the accessory could connect to a smartphone and provide walking directions or indicate to the user if he/she is off course.
After the presentations I was awarded a top-5 hardware hack.
(1) Kärcher, Silke M. et al. “Sensory Augmentation for the Blind.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 6 (2012): 37. PMC. Web. 21 February 2015.