Blind, Sighted
Gadgetry gives the blind improved capabilities in traditionally visual activities
Tech / 27 Jan 2012
Among the young and tech-savvy, Sixth Sense technology that layers pertinent information (directions, reviews, or a buddy’s geo-location) over real-time experience is a must-have. Now, some of that same technology is being employed for those deprived of the ability to see, as new gadgets and apps give the blind more complete experiences in undertakings otherwise made difficult or impossible due to their lack of sight.
Touchscreen Braille Writer
Touchscreen devices present an insurmountable obstacle for the visually impaired. Lacking buttons or other palpable reference points, screens can’t be navigated sight unseen (at least not without audio and voice commands). But engineering student Adam Duran recently devised a workaround: an app that orients a tablet’s virtual keyboard to a user’s fingertips, rather than requiring the user to locate it by touch. Unlike traditional screen reader programs, Duran’s app is a screen writer. It features a self-adjusting Braille keyboard of eight keys, with corresponding audio cues to confirm correct typing. If released, the program could ultimately supplant traditional Braille note takers, which cost upwards of $5,000.
Tacit Glove: Developed by Grathio Labs, this wrist-mounted gadget amounts to human sonar. The glove, designed by inventor Steve Hoefer, was conceived to aid the sight impaired in safely and accurately navigating their environs. Previously, Hoefer had experimented with a similarly inspired headband, but ultimately found the design too uncomfortable and aesthetically unpleasant for the long haul. The Tacit glove provides a more practical sonar fix. As its wearer draws near an object, the glove responds by increasing pressure to the wrist, thus allowing the wearer to pinpoint any object’s exact location. Interestingly, Hoefer hasn’t expressed the intention to mass-market the device, but rather shares the prototype under Creative Commons.
The Sound of Football
Recently, Pepsi made use of an innovative system that lets users “see” through sound, applying the technology to an otherwise ordinary game of soccer (aka football). To test it, Pepsi pitted visually impaired participants against former professional footballers. Camera tracking was used to locate players’ exact positioning, and that info was translated into surround sound and transmitted through players’ iPhone-enabled headgear. Rather like Tacit’s sonar system, the players could sense action on the field and their distance from the other players through the sounds received. (You can see what transpired here.) As Pepsi suggests—and we agree—this astounding technology has implications far beyond the world of sports.
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