Walking with the senses
As we walk along concrete city sidewalks, over gravel paths, or across tiled building lobbies, we are continuously exposed through our footsteps to highly structured information about the ground, through the feelings we experience and the sounds we hear. The present volume documents recent research that has aimed at reinforcing our understanding of how our feet interact with surfaces on which we walk, and at characterizing those sensations we have when walking that help us to interpret space in intuitive ways and that can be replicated via new technologies toward building realistic virtual environments.
The chapters it contains notably review advances that were achieved within the multidisciplinary European project Natural Interactive Walking. Through the development of new technologies for enhancing spaces, floors, and footwear in ways that allow them to provide simulated experiences of attributes of everyday walking surfaces, the research covered here attempts to enable the designers of new technological systems to engender a real sense of ``being there'', particularly through the use of data coming from the haptic (touch) and auditory (sound) perceptual channels, or in tandem with them. It illustrates how knowledge about the ways that users experience their surroundings during walking can be used to create perceptually rich and plausible experiences of walking in diverse natural and man-made environments.
This work may lead to radically new approaches to interaction with digital information, for example in airports, railway stations, public urban spaces, or in virtual environments used for immersive training purposes. It could, for example, be applied to the creation of intuitive navigation aids, such as landmarking, guidance to locations of interest, ``eyes-free'' signaling, and warning about obstacles and restricted areas. Such research may also open the door to the creation of better assistive tools for visually-impaired and other special-needs users.