The Grapheel R&D scheme focuses on the development of an electronic, refreshable, Tactile Graphics Display (TGD) model. The device will allow touch interaction with visual data using taxels, or tactile pixels. We strive to deliver the best user experience with an innovative technology in the field of tangible computing, HCI, and Technology Enhanced Learning.
The following paragraph quoted from a research paper published by a research group at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology summarises well, why the R&D focusing on developing a tactile display is important.
“People who have lost their sight rely substantially on touch and hearing for obtaining information about their environment. Accordingly, displays that plot digital data such as text and graphics for visually impaired users must address at least one of these senses. While today speech output is integrated in nearly every technical device the development of tactile displays falls short of expectations.”
Although most often within the research collaboration we refer to the device as a ’tactile graphics display’, in actual fact the proposed technology is a multi-modality, interactive display taking advantages of touch, sound and speech.
The ultimate goal is to exploit the abilities of human sensory substitution, Human-Computer Interaction; and create a computerised device enabling conversion of visual-to-tactile, visual-to-auditory and visual-to-verbal information.
Inspiration, benefits, and Target Audience
The research idea was born as a result of three fundamental considerations:
- Images are composed of picture elements (pixels)
- Electronic Braille displays for displaying linear text can be viewed as a set of movable pixels
- It is possible to combine the two features above and make a 2D Braille display enabling tactile figures
This ability of displaying tactile graphics on a digital device would cause enormous benefits in science education for the visually impaired community. Accessibility of scientific content, in particular constructing and interpreting data plots is still an unsolved challenge. Although alternatives exist for making tactile graphics on paper, having an electronic device would serve with a great number of additional benefits such as, independence of users, tactile animations, saveable and editable files, audio and verbal feedback and many more.
Creating the TGD would also mean opening up a new segment of information technology in the field of tangible computing.
Future Perspectives and Global Research Efforts
We appreciate the work of research teams around the world such as, a team working on the so called Morphing braille tablet at the University of Michigan, HyperBraille project, a startup called Blitab, among others.
People with sight loss can directly benefit from a technology like the TGD from a very early stage; however, we do not aim to design an exclusive assistive technology. As the research progresses, sighted users should be able to get an extra dimension of the information surrounding them. Although vision is arguably the most powerful sense of humans, in some cases tangible feedback might assist a wide range of professions.
As pointed out earlier the TGD is not meant to be an assistive technology but rather a device accessible for the blind since the first generation models, to be further developed to suit the needs of sighted people.
We aim to invest in the R&D putting emphasis on innovating patentable actuator technologies, that can be implemented in any tangible computing system designed in the future.