Navigation using music leaves user’s hands free

Saturday, Mar 5, 2016,10:40 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

London | Most people are able to navigate easily by following audio guidance while walking or cycling, a new study has found. The study investigated two different guidance types route guidance and beacon guidance. With route guidance, the user is guided along a route with the help of spatial audio, in this case music heard from the route in front of the user.

With beacon guidance, the music is instead heard straight from the destination and the user finds his or her own route towards the destination. In the study the direction where the music was heard from was modified using HRTFs (head-related transfer functions). These functions add a sense of direction to a sound presented with headphones, as the functions include subtle hints of the direction, such as level and time differences between the ears.

The user’s preference between route guidance and beacon guidance seems to depend more strongly on the environment than on the guidance method itself. The majority of the participants in the user studies were happy with the investigated music navigation method and would like to use it in the future. Everyone reached their destination, although a few participants found it slightly difficult to hear the direction of the music. Beacon navigation works well in familiar environments and in cities where the user can make a turn at every intersection.

In suburban areas, beacon navigation may not work that well, since the user may not know the distance to the next possible turn, said Robert Albrecht from Aalto University in Finland. During route guidance the direction of an upcoming turn must be presented earlier to cyclists than to pedestrians because of the higher speeds. One participant cycled so fast that the audio guidance did not keep up with him.

Some participants also felt that they would have needed updates about their progress during the navigation, researchers said. The participants in the user studies were equipped with acoustically transparent headphones. With the help of these, they could clearly hear both the music and sounds from the surroundings. Safety was also one of the aspects they investigated.

Most participants thought that it was relatively easy to take the traffic and the environment into account while navigating with the help of music. They felt safe during the tests, researchers said. It is important to know the compass direction of the head, that is to say, in what position the head is, so that the direction of the spatial sound is stable even if the head moves. In this study this was done with the help of a special head orientation tracker that the cyclists had attached to the helmets and the pedestrians to the headphones, said Albrecht.