Have you ever been dizzy, confused with which way is up, North, or where your car is parked? Those sensations are similiar to spatial disorientation. Spatial Disorientation is a false perception of one's attitude or orientation. It happens frequently in Astronauts, Commercial Airline Pilots (yes, those pilots) and scuba divers. These mishaps cost the Department of Defense $300 million annually in lost aircraft, dozens of lives and can give astronauts debilitating motion sickness. Our research hopes to investigate the use of "buzzing tactors" (like what you feel in a massage chair) to convey direction to disorientated individuals.
Our team shares our research and flight experiences in fun presentations with the general public and students of varying age levels. We will be visiting and presenting at schools, museums, and events in West Lafayette, IN. Involvement in these various programs will inspire people of all ages, to become involved with the field of science and the space program. Along with educating the community, we hope to further our knowledge by positive interaction with a diverse group of people.
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We wear a vest with ten tactors (they are like the vibrators in a massage chair) equally distributed over the torso. The vest is a tight fitting wetsuit jacket. In our flight we alternate between weightlessness (zero g) and twice the earth's normal gravity (two g). Two students wear vests, one will float and the other is strapped to the floor. Both will feel a random tactor buzz and they will push a keypad. At the end of the flight we will "grade" the floating and strapped down students' answers and compare them to their answers on earth.
Mental distractions (cognitive load for technical weenies) affected haptic performance (correctly identifying which tactor buzzed) in a zero-gravity environment. Cognitive load was tested by strapping down one of the students during the weightless part of the flight to reduce that students' distractions. The other floated. Performance was assessed by comparing accuracy in identifying a haptic stimulus on the torso by the flying and the immobilized member, and by comparing information transmission through the multi-tactor vests worn by these two flight members.
Results will be of interest throughout the aerospace community. Properly designed tactile displays could give astronauts additional orientation awareness during EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities) and discrete communication to covert ops soldiers would be made easy. This haptic technology could be used for navigational information to disabled, elderly or the blind when combined with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a wearable computer.
Jonathan Andrew Wolter
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Purdue Electrical Engineering
Purdue Aerospace Engineering
Purdue Industrial Engineering
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