Decoding Design

New app uses projected arrows to guide users through unfamiliar buildings

New app uses projected arrows to guide users through unfamiliar buildings

Posting in Design

A new augmented reality app tracks your position and calculates where you go in real time, projecting arrows in front of you as you walk.

The familiar blue dot on smartphone GPS systems is a symbol that many of us have come to rely on to tell us where we are, and where we are going. For the most part the blue dot is incredibly helpful, but once you reach your destination, you're on your own. Confusing buildings, labyrinth offices, and gigantic malls can all be a struggle to navigate.

Now, however, a new augmented reality app can literally point you in the right direction. The app tracks your position and calculates where you go in real time, but unlike a phone GPS, this app projects the directions in front of you, in the form of arrows.

The app, called Guiding Light, was developed by Jaewoo Chung at MIT's Media Lab. It's made of a wearable badge with magnetic sensors and a software app that uses a projector that is built into many Samsung smartphones to display arrows on the ground in front of you as you walk.

The system works with a map of the building that is based on fluctuations in its magnetic field (created by the steel in the walls, floors and ceilings). And in tests, the app was able to locate the user's location to within a meter.

To make the maps, someone wearing the magnetic sensor badge must walk through the building completely, and then the map can be uploaded onto the phone. However, to find their way around the building, the user must wear a similar badge, that communicates their position onto the phone.

To get to a specific location, the user can put the desired destination into the app, and it will project an arrow onto the floor in front of them that will change direction as the sensors shift in orientation.

The projector can also give other information. Say you point your phone at an office door, the app has the potential to display a photo and job title of the occupant.

Still in the prototype phase, this design is a bit clunky and wearing a badge is something that most would find to be too inconvenient actually use regularly. But, if the magnetic sensors could be integrated into the phone, or if there was some sort of database of magnetic building maps, this could really take off.

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Image: Beth Carter

[Co.Design]

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Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure