This curious app let’s you have fun with a friend or a lover: you can send him/her a set of directions and he/she will realize what the draw was just when the whole route is done. Of course, lovely couples will send hearts each other but you can send it to give a response or (how can I forget this?) reveal a hidden treasure.

The sender can also include audio recordings, images, inside jokes or other messages that pop up at specified locations along the route to give the recipient hints.

The free app, available from Google and iTunes, was designed by UW Human Centered Design and Engineering researchers to explore how GIS mapping technology shapes how we experience the simple act of walking. Trace aims to encourage communication and reflection, rather than focusing on competition or efficiency.

“For some people it was a delight to find that slowing down allowed them to meet new people or see familiar sites in their neighborhood in new ways, but at the same time giving up that control was a stress for other folks who had a routine, ” said project lead Daniela Rosner, assistant professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering and co-director of the UW’s TAT Lab.

Trace app

Activity tracking apps like FitBit help people reach exercise goals, and routing apps like Google Maps are optimized to send people on the most efficient route to a particular destination. Trace, by contrast, forces walkers to relinquish control, go where the app directs them and in some cases experience traveling through a city quite differently than they’re used to.

In a study presented last month in Seoul at the Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI conference for computer-human interaction, 16 avid walkers in Seattle, Boston and Chicago who used Trace for a week tested more than 150 shapes. Some participants — who included a dog walker, an artist, a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority employee and a lawyer who works on rights to public space — sent routes to friends while others simply used the app to draw walks for themselves.

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