Tablet Makes Visual Information Tactile For The Visually Impaired
Researchers in Switzerland have come up with a tablet with magnetic pins for users to feel where they are on a map and where they need to go
Researchers at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a tablet for visually impaired users as an alternative to a touchscreen device. The tablet, part of the European project BlindPAD, employs magnetic pins that allow users to feel information with their fingertips, instead of listening to audio cues from the device as they would with a regular tablet.
The magnetic pins form images, letters or Braille for a blind person to interpret. The pins can move quickly enough for users to feel them vibrate under their fingers, allowing them to experience animations through touch. The magnets run on pulses from coils that hold the pins in place and don’t require any electricity.
The team at EPFL decided to move away from the more traditional use of audio for their device after listening to feedback from their program’s volunteers. One visually impaired volunteer, Denis Maret, gave an example of listening to a GPS system. His current devices recite the information he needs to hear, such as instructions to go forward 400 meters, then take a left. But since he can’t use a visual reference to judge the 400-meter distance, he must rely on the device again to instruct him at the moment of the turn.
The EPFL tablet would use the pins to form a map for the user to trace by touch. Users would be able to feel their location on the path, when turns were approaching and the presence of any walls or barriers. In addition to navigation, the tablet could be used in education to allow visually impaired students to inspect geometry problems and graphs. The same application would work in a professional setting where a visually impaired worker receives graphs or other visual charts from colleagues.
The tablet remains in development with no indication of the project’s timeline, although the team has already created a working prototype.