A design student's electronic glove translates bikers' traditional hand signals into directional lights.
Anthony Carton is getting a lot of attention these days, and with his help, soon so might people on bicycles, scooters and motorcycles.
Carton, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, created a glove outfitted with sensors that translate hand turn signals into lighted directional indicators. It won Most Innovative Design Concept at the International Symposium of Wearable Computing, held this past June in England.
Not a bad finish for something that began as a quick project for a spring semester seminar.
"I'm really surprised at how much attention this is getting," said Carton, 29, who lives in Robbinsdale and is pursuing a master of fine arts degree in graphic design from the College of Design. "The whole thing took only two weeks" from concept to finished prototype.
Carton, a frequent scooter user, realized that many automobile drivers either don't pay attention to bikers when they signal turns or no longer recognize the meanings of the hand signals, which were widely used until electronic turn signals became standard vehicle equipment following World War II. He decided to tackle both problems at once with gloves that light up to get drivers' attention and show the direction the biker is going.
"The main point of the project was to enable people to communicate visually with another person," he said.
He assigned the project a caveat: It had to work without the bikers thinking about it. Because the ultimate goal is to improve safety, he was adamant that the glove not distract riders by requiring them to activate it.
"People don't need a new gadget," he said. "The bikers do what they always do, and the glove recognizes the gesture and reacts with the appropriate signal."
The heart of the glove, which is officially known as the Context Aware Signal Glove for Bicycle and Motorcycle Riders (that's not a marketing acronym, so don't sprain your tongue trying to pronounce CASGBMR) is a microprocessor that reads hand movements. The back of the glove has a square outlined with LED lights positioned to resemble a baseball diamond.
When riders stick their left arm straight out, the two lines of lights on the left side of the diamond blink to form a chevron pointing left. When the arm is bent upward at a 90-degree angle, the other two rows of lights blink to point to the right. And when the riders point downward at an angle in an indication that they plan to change lanes, the two lines on the top of the diamond are illuminated constantly to show where the biker intends to go.
There's one other function, albeit a more, uh, emotional one: When the rider raises a middle finger in the universal gesture of disdain, all of the lights flash.
"It's important to think about emotion when we design things; it's what makes us human," Carton said. "This also happened to be an opportunity to incorporate some humor, which the judges at the symposium appreciated."
The "anger mode," as it's known, also has a valid safety element. "One of the most common reasons people get mad is that drivers don't see bikers," he said. "This helps translate your obscene gesture into something that makes you more visible."
Carton has had casual conversations about manufacturing the glove, but nothing concrete has developed. In the meantime, he has entered it in the 14th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, to be held in Pittsburgh early next month.
"This project might not seem like the typical graduate work in graphic design," he conceded. "But the important part is the thought into the rider's demands on attention and on emotion, and that is very much the realm of design."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392
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