Some smartphone apps are aiming to help users discover something new in their environment.

Story highlights

Apps such as Dérive and Serendipitor guide the user to discover new things

With general directions, the mobile apps help chart an eye-opening course

Google's Niantic Labs has also developed apps to get the user moving

Ingress is an Android game that encourages interacting with the environment

CNN  — 

We’re used to our phones navigating us from one place to another, giving detailed instructions on how to find our destination in the fastest, easiest way possible.

But there are a few apps that have no intention of ushering you somewhere quickly. Instead, they want to help you get out, get moving and get a little lost, hopefully discovering something new along the way.

That’s the idea behind an application called Dérive, which was developed by Eduardo Cachucho, an architect and lecturer based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Set up like a loosely structured game, Dérive consists of a general set of instructional cards that can be used anywhere or localized versions for select cities.

They prompt the user to set out in a generalized direction, offering cryptic hints to help them along. For example, you might be instructed to “turn left and search for something sweet,” and then to “keep going straight and look for a sign of hope.”

That emphasis on giving a critical eye to your environment was key for Cachucho and his development partner, Babak Fakhamzadeh.

“The goal for us is to empower everyday people to understand how the urban space works,” Cachucho said.

They wanted to do it in a way that took advantage of mobile technology – a technique that didn’t initially make sense to some people. Cachucho said that one of the first reactions some people have is questioning how someone can truly appreciate the world around them with their eyes on a phone.

“I think there’s a misconception that you can’t interface with the two at the same time,” he said. “It’s really based on the idea that if you give a person the tools to explore the urban space, given the right cues, it’ll get someone to move in an interesting direction.”

The pair also host workshops to help interested groups come up with a more location-specific deck of cards.

The San Francisco set, for example, tells the player to go downtown, look for a closed store and then make a left after two blocks. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt, but with the prize of seeing your environment in a new way.

Similarly, an iPhone app called Serendipitor is built around the idea of taking detours from one’s normal route in hopes of stumbling upon something interesting and previously overlooked.

Developed by Mark Shepard, an architect and researcher who teaches at the University at Buffalo, the Serendipitor is described as an “alternative navigation app.” Shepard originally developed the app as part of a larger project, and with funding from the nonprofit organization Creative Capital