Imagine if you could echolocate using your fingertips, in a way that allowed you to have a tactile sense of objects around you without having to physically touch them. That's the idea behind IrukaTact, a breakthrough haptic sonar glove developed by Aisen Carolina Chacin and Takeshi Ozu of Tsukuba University in Japan, reports Popular Science.
The glove, inspired by the dolphin (iruka means "dolphin" in Japanese), is specifically designed for use underwater where it makes it possible for swimmers to feel for objects deep below them. The glove essentially bestows its wearers with a sixth sense — an Aquaman-like underwater sense — which could be useful for salvage or rescue divers that have to feel their way through murky waters.
“Our overall goal was to expand haptics,” explained Chacin. “How can you feel different textures or sense depth without actually touching the object? Vibration alone doesn’t cut it for me, or most people, for that matter.”
The glove works by utilizing a sonar sensor, three small motors and an Arduino Pro Mini, to detect the proximity of objects and then send signals to the fingers using pulsing jets of water. For instance, as you reach closer to a distant object, sonar sensors detect it and the jets become stronger and apply more pressure on the fingertips.
Currently the sensor can only receive and send signals from up to 2 feet away underwater, though future designs will involve an expanded range.
Since the device gives its wearer a tactile sense of sound (that's what sonar is: essentially the bouncing of sound waves off objects to reveal their form and location), it could potentially be paired with an Oculus Rift and outfitted with gyroscopes and accelerometers to provide haptic feedback in virtual reality.
The glove's most immediate purpose, however, will be for searching underwater landscapes for victims, sunken objects, or to scan for hazards like sinkholes. It also will allow divers to get a feel for an object before having to lay hands on it — a useful tool for helping to avoid contact with sharp or hazardous objects lurking in muddy water.
To get a glimpse of the surprisingly agile and non-restrictive glove in action, you can check out the following informational video provided by the developers: