Astronauts have to wear big, bulky spacesuits that restrict their vision as they waddle around like gravity-defying penguins. They can't always see whether they're about to step on an antenna or trip over an unseen moon rock, so the folks over at the MIT's Man Vehicle Lab have been working on a solution: smart space boots.
The boots have range-finding sensors built into them that constantly scan for things like rocks or other obstacles. If it sees anything, it sends haptic feedback to the wearer warning them that something is close. As the wearer nears the obstacle, the haptic feedback speeds up to let them know they're close to potential danger. It works kind of like parking sensors on a car.
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MIT professor Leia Stirling told TechCrunch the boots are just one part of a larger project focused on "decision-making assist" systems. The amount of data astronauts have to deal with at any given moment is too much for any kind of UI, so the idea is to use different methods of feedback to inform the astronaut. For example, haptic feedback can work, but it can be aided by a sound that triggers if an object is speeding toward the astronaut.
The boots are only in the prototype phase, but they've been tested by the Mars Desert Research Society, which maintains a research station in a very Mars-looking corner of the Utah desert.
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