BlindPAD’s tablet

I received this in an email today and I think it sounds very interesting.


BlindPAD’s tablet makes visual information tactile for the vision-impaired
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It’s truly amazing, the wealth of information we all have at our
fingertips — that is, of course, unless your fingertips are how you have
to access that information. An innovative new
that uses magnetically configurable bumps may prove to be a powerful tool
for translating information like maps and other imagery to a modality more
easily accessed by the visually impaired.
The tablet, unnamed as yet, has evolved and improved over the past few
years as part of Europe’s BlindPAD project<>,
which aims to create a cheap, portable alternative to touchscreen devices.
It’s developed by researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de
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The latest prototype is about the size of a thick iPad mini, and it uses a
clever mechanism to raise and lower the bumps that form images, letters or
Braille (although they’re rather large for it). Each little bump is
attached to a magnet; the magnet is always attached to one of two steel
layers, and can be switched by running a current briefly through an
adjacent coil. Like an e-paper screen, no power is required to keep it in
its current position, making it very efficient.
The process is quick enough, though, that the dots can animate or vibrate
for feedback, and could detect being pressed or glided over by a hand.
The idea isn’t to create a Kindle for the blind, however; Braille displays
must be much higher density. That usually requires a different type of
haptic display, such as the one used by
The BlindPAD tablet has 12 rows and 16 columns, for a total of 192
potential bumps, “taxels” as some have called them. That’s much better
suited to things better shown than described.
“People can read with a Braille display, and detect nearby obstacles with
a white cane,” said EPFL’s Herbert Shea in a news
“Our tablet, which will not cost much to produce, will provide graphic
information in real time, so the user can check out the layout of a room
or street before venturing into it.”
It could indicate where safe crossings are on a map of a corner, tell
which of two doorways goes to the appropriate locker room, or allow a
visually impaired student to inspect a chart or geometry problem in class
as easily as their sighted peers. A study performed last
year<> found that using the
tablet instead of the equivalent in raised dots on paper had similar
benefits for young students.
Our results demonstrate that programmable maps are an effective way to
display graphical contents in educative/rehabilitative contexts. They can
be at least as effective as traditional paper tests yet providing superior
flexibility and versatility.
BlindPAD’s tablet is still very much in development, but it’s come a long
way since its earlier iterations. The current one is more efficient,
wireless and at least kind of portable.
The technique could also be applied, Shea said, to sighted people in the
form of, for example, gloves that press on the hand, giving similar
spatial information or perhaps tactile feedback in virtual reality.
The team is showing their latest results at the ACM CHI
conference<> in Denver this week.


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