Human Satnav to guide people by zapping electrodes in their leg muscles

Reuters/Issei Kato
A human Satnav, using electrodes to send people in the right direction, has been developed by German scientists. It works by sending a signal from a mobile phone, which stimulates a muscle in the leg, showing them the direction they need to go in.

Max Pfeiffer, from the University of Hannover, was the brains behind the operation. He tested it on a group of students in a local park who had no idea where they were going.

Their movements were directed by a mobile phone, which sent a bluetooth electric pulse-like signal, stimulating the sartorius muscle, which runs all the way from the inside of the knee, through to the outer thigh.

When the muscle contracts, it pulls the leg out and away from the body, so if Pfeiffer wanted the student to go to the left, he would send a signal to their left Sartorius muscles.

The general reaction of the students was positive, with one comparing it to the feeling of being in cruise control in a car, where the driver can take control back when they want it. "Changes in direction happened subconsciously," said another, the New Scientist reported.

Pieiffer originally came up with the idea as a way of freeing up people’s minds and helping tourists who are in unfamiliar locations.

"When I use Google Maps and I navigate somewhere, I am always pulling my mobile out of my pocket to check," Pfeiffer told the New Scientist. "We want to remove this step out of the navigation process so you just say ‘I want to go there,' and you end up there.”

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The creators of the technology have high hopes that the new creation could be used to help people’s everyday needs. In theory it could be a revolutionary aid to the visually impaired by guiding them in the right direction. It could also be used to help firefighters or for crowd control.

"Imagine visitors to a large sports stadium or theater being guided to their place, or being evacuated from the stadium in the most efficient way in the case of an emergency," the team wrote in a paper that was presented at a conference in Seoul in April.

Pfeiffer says that it could take the public some time to get used to the technology, though believes wearable technology such as the Apple Watch will help people become less reliant on their telephones for everyday life. The scientist from the University of Hannover also has high hopes the idea could branch out and other apps could be developed using the technology.

The researchers hope that the system could be linked with a GPS so a final destination could be put in, meaning people did not have to look at a map, while a dating app could be created that would in theory, literally lead likeminded people to one another.