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CIM's Haptics Lab featured in New Scientist Oct. 25/08!

last modified 2008-11-05 08:00

I am thrilled to announce that some of the work done by Vincent Levesque and members of our Haptics Laboratory, under the direction of Professor Vincent Hayward, is featured in the New Scientist Print Edition, 25 October 2008. The article features joint work being done by our Haptics group and colleagues at UdeM on tactile graphics for the blind. The article is entitled: "Pinching display lets you feel the data", and is based on a paper presented at ASSETS 2008.

Pinching display lets you feel the data

25 October 2008

From New Scientist Print Edition.

David Robson

A DEVICE that pinches and stretches the skin on the fingertips, rather than prodding and poking it, could revolutionise the way blind people access graphs and maps.

Current electronic Braille displays work by raising and lowering an array of pins to form individual characters. But the actuators needed to move the pins up and down are bulky because they need to be powerful enough to resist the pressure exerted by the finger. The size of the these actuators means that only 16 pins can fit into a square centimetre, severely limiting a display's ability to represent images.

Now a team from Canada has improved this resolution, allowing tactile chips to display detailed maps, graphs and diagrams. It has designed an array of pins that move horizontally rather than vertically, when a voltage is applied. This movement stretches or pinches the skin.

Fingertips are highly sensitive to this sensation. "It fools the brain into thinking you're touching a raised surface," says Vincent Hayward, who worked on the device with colleagues at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Montreal. These pins are not pushing against the finger, so the actuators can be made smaller.

The device, called the Tactograph, consists of a chip roughly 1 centimetre square with an 8-by-8 array of pins on top, mounted on a larger platform. First, a teacher digitally scans a picture, removes any text and highlights important boundaries using the Tactograph's software. Then, as the user slides the chip across the platform with their fingertip, the pins move to produce the texture corresponding to the different parts of the image.

For example, when representing a map, the device would produce a vibrating sensation to mark out the borders of countries, and it would "colour" the interior of each region with a different static texture. The team demonstrated how the device has been used to display graphs, maps and diagrams at the ASSETS 2008 conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, last week.

Stephen Brewster at the University of Glasgow, UK, believes the device is a big improvement on previous technology. He hopes it could even be modified to allow students to construct their own graphs and diagrams.

Petit, G., Dufresne, A., Levesque, V., Hayward, V., Trudeau, N. (2008) *Refreshable Tactile Graphics Applied to Schoolbook Illustrations for Students with Visual Impairment.* Proc. ASSETS 2008, Oct. 13-15, 2008, Halifax, Canada. pdf- doi

Related Articles Feel it in your fingers 10 March 2001 Gadgets get the feel of the tactile world 14 July 2006 Tactile passwords could stop ATM 'shoulder surfing' 06 October 2006 Weblinks Vince Hayward's website Stephen Brewster, University of Glasgow ASSETS 2008 conference From issue 2679 of New Scientist magazine, 25 October 2008, page 24