Touch North

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I’m deeply fascinated with display-less technology. It’s an interesting challenge for interaction designers when you remove something we’re so accustomed to. This isn’t a frivolous gesture; when you minimize or remove the screen you open yourself up to deeper engagement with the world around you.

While we humans are highly visually oriented, we are defined as a species by our hands. They’ve shaped our evolution by enabling tool use. Therefor, to expand our bodies and ourselves in a visceral way I chose to enhance the capabilities of our hands. I did so by providing more information and capabilities to them.

I addressed this challenge that I created for myself by providing the ability to feel magnetic fields with the right hand. It’s commonly known that birds can see magnetic fields out of their right eye and I love the thought of providing a similar ability to humans.

The glove I made gives the wearer the ability to “feel” magnetic North through a vibrating motor on the wrist. This ability in the glove is activated by pointing, closing a circuit of conductive fabric between the middle finger and palm of the hand (Fig 2). As the wearer moves in a circle the glove vibrates with increasing intensity as North is zeroed in on (Fig 1). The wearer can also set a new heading by making a gesture of pulling a trigger with the index finger (closing yet another circuit of conductive fabric) (Fig 4). This can be reset back to North by bringing the thumb to the palm of the hand (a third circuit) (Fig 5). A distinct vibration, different than those used to alert the wearer to the presence of north, is used to communicate correct gesture input to the wearer.

Gestures and vibration

These simple gestures and vibration responses used to interact with the compass in the glove can be performed without visual attention. As such, wearing this glove as a tourist will provide clues as to your direction without necessitating viewing a map or a smartphone. Those tools serve a valuable role but pull the user out of the moment. Don Norman says that, “the goal (of wearable technology) being to avoid diverting the user’s attention and to provide relevant supplementary information only when needed.” I believe I have achieved this goal.


Lilypad arduino
Conductive fabric
Conductive thread
Vibration motor
400mA battery
LED (for demonstration only)

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I used an existing capacitive screen enabled glove as the base of my project and affixed an extra finger pad and a palm pad to input the gestures. I sewed all the electronics to the back of the glove using conductive thread. To clean up my work afterwords I sewed a new layer on the back of the glove, hiding the electronics and conductive thread. I left the new layer open at the wrist, accessible by opening clasps, to allow me to access the circuits should I need to.



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