Dutch Buy Haptic Navigational Aid for Soldiers

Dutch soldiers are being kitted out with a belt that allows them to sense the location of waypoints, providing hands-free directions.

Haptic navigation tools, which guide the wearer through vibration, have been researched as possible aids for people with visual impairments, but are also of interest to the military. A firm called Elitac Wearables in Utrecht, the Netherlands, has delivered the first real product using the technology, selling 20 of its Mission Navigation Belts to the Royal Netherlands Army
this month for an undisclosed price.

Existing navigational aids require soldiers to look down at screens or listen to audio instructions. Both have disadvantages:

  • Soldiers need to scan their surroundings at all times;
  • Light from a screen may betray their position; and
  • Verbal instructions can interfere with other communications and get drowned out by background noise.

The belt connects to the soldiers’ existing smart vests, which are fitted with a radio, GPS and battery. Seven vibrational motors around the belt continuously indicate the direction to the next waypoint, with the location of the vibration changing as the wearer turns.

Soldiers tested the belts in land and water vehicles and on foot, navigating continuously between modes of travel. The haptic signals were clear even when running or traversing rough terrain.

The belt could pave the way for other applications, says Martijn van der Leeden at Elitac’s parent company Teijin, such as assisting those with visual impairments and providing hands-free navigation for hikers, runners and cyclists. However, Elitac has no immediate plans for a consumer version.

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