When an enterprising San Francisco jogger made headlines last summer, it wasn’t because of her speed, but because she drew penises. Her medium was her feet, which were tracked on her run by her Nike+ fitness app.
Making art via a walking or jogging route is actually becoming a thing. People are planning paths that result in tracings of robots, skyscrapers, hearts, marriage proposals, and calls for world peace.
Now researchers at the University of Washington have created an app that does the reverse: You sketch a drawing on your screen, and the Trace app turns it into a walking or jogging route in your neighborhood. You can also give your to a friend–the app guides them turn-by-turn on a mystery walk as your sketch slowly emerges on the screen.
Created by researchers at the UW Human Centered Design and Engineering, Trace gets people to give up control of their paths. The goal is to get people discovering new streets, neighborhoods, and ways to engage in their community, and possibly make fitness a little less tedious.
The team tested the app with 16 walkers in Seattle, Boston, and Chicago for a week. Some testers liked that Trace created variety in their daily routines. Others were less thrilled giving up a clear sense of where they were going or were disconcerted by walking up and down the same street for the sake of art. Some felt Trace routed them into neighborhoods they felt were unsafe.
The app isn’t necessarily going to be the next big fitness trend. But it helped the researchers explore questions about what people expect from routing tools like Google Maps. Certainly, it’s a lot more fun than a boring mapping device. One tester sent her boyfriend on a mystery walk, with hints along the way as to what they were tracing. For her, Trace is putting the romance back into a world where all our routes are tracked and traced.
The app can be downloaded for free on Google Play or the iTunes store.