Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Engineers from Purdue University have devised a new system that will facilitate a very specific type of physical and mental multi-tasking — helping treadmill runners to read text on a display screen.
The system, called ReadingMate, compensates for constantly bobbing eyes so runners can train for a marathon while reading their favorite novel.
“Not many people can run and read at the same time,” said Ji Soo Yi, an assistant professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University. “This is because the relative location of the eyes to the text is vigorously changing, and our eyes try to constantly adjust to such changes, which is burdensome.”
Instead of increasing the size of the displayed font, Yi and his colleagues decided to compensate for a runner´s head motion.
“You could increase the font size and have a large-screen monitor on the wall, but that’s impractical because you cannot have numerous big screen displays in an exercise room,” Yi said.
According to a report on the system published recently in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the engineers recruited 15 multitasking volunteers to perform a “letter-counting” test while jogging on a treadmill and using ReadingMate. The participants were asked to tally how many times the letter ℠F´ appeared in two lines of text nested in 10 lines of text that were displayed on a computer monitor.
While performing the test, the participants wore goggles equipped with infrared LEDs. An infrared camera tracked the motion of the LEDs, essentially recording the movement of the runner’s head. To compensate for the head motion, the displayed text was moved as the volunteers ran along the treadmill with their heads bobbing.
“Our eyes can accommodate vibration to a certain degree,” said Yi. “There are compensatory reflex mechanisms that tend to stabilize the head and eyes to maintain gaze and head position.”
To compensate for the eyes´ natural compensation, Yi´s colleague Bum chul Kwon devised an algorithm to move the text in the most readable manner.
“You can’t just move the text exactly in synch with the head because the eye is already doing what it can to compensate,” Kwon explained. “So you have to account for that compensation by moving the text slightly out of synch with the head motion.”
The researchers found those who used the ReadingMate system performed better at multi-tasking their physical and mental assignments, particularly when it came to reading smaller font sizes and smaller line-spaced text.
“We also measured whether participants gave up on counting the letters because the task was too difficult,” Kwon said. “We often saw people giving up without ReadingMate, especially with certain font sizes and smaller spaces between lines.”
Besides aiding people with the novel task of reading while running, the researchers said their system could be used to assist airline pilots or those working in heavy industry.
“Both may experience heavy shaking and turbulence while reading information from a display,” Kwon said. “ReadingMate could stabilize the content in such cases.”