Get data alerts like texts on your smartwatch

Sometimes, after sitting at my desk for several hours, my mind seems to go blank. I usually call it “hitting a wall.” Whatever you call it, we all can get to a point where we’re looking at information, but our minds aren’t processing any of it.

In a world where real-time data is collected from scores of sensors, I could imagine that the data can get a little overwhelming and, at some points, can draw a blank stare from those reviewing it on screens in a control room. But what if you could be alerted to the important fluctuations as they occur, where ever you are in the facility, with a simple vibration from your smartwatch?

Scientists at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) are a developing haptic display system that uses the sense of touch, which they call the VibrAID. The system is intended to facilitate the handling of complex control systems with vibration patterns, they say.

“Haptic displays transmit information [to] the skin via vibration or pressure. This can be a smartwatch that alerts us to an incoming message via vibration, or a cell phone that navigates us out of your pocket through vibration patterns,” said Erik Pescara, of the Telecooperation Office (TECO) research group at KIT, in a statement.

The scientists say that the control rooms of power plants or transport networks, where large amounts of data are displayed on screens, are potential application scenarios. The system would put less strain on a user’s attention and allow them to better focus on other tasks.

“We want to relieve the visual sense by pointing out the haptic sense of relevant events,” said Vincent Diener, who developed VibrAID at KIT and also works at TECO, in a statement. “A wearable system—a so-called wearable—informs the user about important changes or events in the dashboard using pre-trained vibration patterns.

“There is a server running in the background that monitors whether there is a guideline value in the system, for instance,” he continued. “If there is one, the system sends the information to the user’s smartphone. This then forwards the corresponding data via Bluetooth to the wearable and triggers the vibration impulses.”

The VibrAID system consists of a wrist cuff featuring small vibration modules, which are easy to remove for cleaning.

Going further, the scientists are now using an example of the control room of an energy supplier to build a realistic study environment at KIT.

KIT’s TECO aims to show that the interaction between human and machine can be more than information displayed on monitors, it says. The entity has developed two other haptic systems thus far. It’s Proximity Hat uses pressure to tell the wearer how close walls, passages and objects are depending on the strength of the signal. In order to do this, it uses ultrasound to measure the environment in real time. The RüttelFlug system informs a paraglider about change in speed and altitude by means of vibration.