What's a sensor belt?

HOUSTON A navy test pilot is flying blind, doing loops without seeing and without instruments.

"Imagine actually flying an airplane without being able to see," said Dr. Jon Clark.

The pilot did it with a vest that has pager-like vibrators. He was cued where down was during the aerobatics. Dr. Clark worked on the vest in the Navy.

"The potential benefit to mankind is immense," he said.

The vest has shrunk to a belt and it's being tested by a team of university students working with Dr. Scott Wood of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.

"We're providing a simple sense of touch to tell you where down is, or what direction to move in," said Dr. Wood.

To test the belt, the students designed a tilting, rotating chair and virtual reality goggles.

"We're using a drill to power it. We have it wired to a computer and the computer's going to give it a random orientation," said NSBRI Student Project Leader Justin Barba.

Can someone wearing the belt experience all that and still avoid getting disoriented? That's their question.

The tactor belt may also prevent astronauts from getting disoriented in space. Astronaut Leroy Chiao says it would help.

"In the limited visibility of a space helmet working on a work site you can get turned around," said Chiao, a former commander of the international space station.

Someday, the sensor belt could be really important to your grandparents.

"One of the things that gets me most excited is that we can really help people who have balance disorders," said Dr. Wood.

For those who are dizzy, elderly, or have balance problems, the belt with its sensors could prevent a fall.

"We can use the sensory feedback as a way of letting them know when they're leaning over too far and are at risk of a fall," said Dr. Wood.

If you want to test a science project on NASA's Reduced Gravity Flight, you can click here to learn more about NASA's student science programs.


Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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