The recipient of the "gift" tells the app named Trace how long they want the walk to last and receives step-by-step directions that eventually reveal the hidden shape on a map.

Thus Trace forces walkers to relinquish control, go where the app directs them and in some cases experience travelling through a city quite differently than they are used to.

"For some people it was a delight to find that slowing down allowed them to meet new people or see familiar sites in their neighbourhood 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.

The researchers noted that unlike other apps that allow you to share a fixed route that you may have already run or biked, Trace allows a person to begin walking the route from any point in the city.

The walker can also make the shape bigger or smaller by specifying how long the walk should last.

The free app, available from Google and iTunes, was designed to explore how geographic information system (GIS) mapping technology shapes how we experience the simple act of walking.

"Our goal for this research wasn't necessarily to produce the next new app for walking, though we hope people will use and enjoy it," Rosner noted.

"It was to use the tool to start asking questions about what we expect from our GIS routing tools and about the role that technology can play in our walks," Rosner said.