DoCoMo haptic handles put navigation in your palm

The mobile carrier also showed a wearable skin sensor to track fat burning

NTT DoCoMo showed off a haptic navigation tool called Yubi Navi at Ceatec outside Tokyo on Monday.

NTT DoCoMo showed off a haptic navigation tool called Yubi Navi at Ceatec outside Tokyo on Monday.

It's not quite the same as thumbing a ride, but a cylindrical gadget that nestles in your palm can get you where you want to go.

Japanese mobile giant NTT DoCoMo on Monday showed off Yubi Navi, a prototype navigation and communication device that uses haptic feedback to convey information.

Coated with white rubber, Yubi Navi looks a bit like a game controller or TV remote. It can link to a smartphone via Bluetooth and contains small actuators that twist it left or right or make it bulge slightly in the middle.

When used for navigation, it can guide a user to a destination by prompting him to turn left or right at a given intersection. When the goal is reached, it vibrates.

The idea is to free people from the need to keep looking at a map displayed on their smartphone.

At the Ceatec tech expo outside Tokyo, DoCoMo did demos of prototypes of the device, which were linked to a power source via wires. A screen displayed a 3D animation of the streets of a town through which attendees could virtually navigate with the help of Yubi Navi.

"Aside from avoiding the dangers involved in not paying attention to one's surroundings, this can help people enjoy a location more by noticing new shops and other attractions," said Koji Okamoto of DoCoMo's strategic marketing department. "In Japan, walking with smartphones is a big problem and we want to solve it."

The device can also be used to send tactile "nudges" to other people as a form of communication, much like the haptic messaging functions of the Apple Watch.

DoCoMo also demonstrated one of its own wearables on Monday, a credit card-size sensor that straps on your forearm to tell you how much fat you're burning.

The 54-gram prototype is a semiconductor-based gas sensor that can detect acetone molecules, which are emitted from the skin when fat is being burned.

DoCoMo managed to shrink the sensor from one that weighed 6 kilograms. It can link to a smartphone via Bluetooth and relay data on how much acetone it detects.

"We'd like to realize a healthier world just by wearing such a device that can measure various types of health indexes like fat burning," said Satoshi Hiyama, an engineer with DoCoMo's Frontier Technology Research Group.

The device could be further miniaturized to fit into fitness bands or smartwatches, Hiyama said.

It follows DoCoMo's foray into healthcare applications such as a smart shirt and Move Band, a fitness tracker developed with Toshiba.

Both the Yubi Navi and the acetone sensor are prototypes without release dates yet, DoCoMo officials said.

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Tim Hornyak

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