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Computerized Glove Teaches Braille

Jun 30, 2014 05:55 PM EDT

Researchers have developed a pair of computerized gloves that can teach Braille to people even completely unfamiliar to the language in a relatively short amount of time. What's remarkable is that the designers are claiming that you don't even need to be paying attention to the gloves as you learn.

Braille is a very important part of the world for the estimated 39 million blind and visually impaired individuals around the globe. The texture-based reading and writing system helps people stay on top of communication and education even while not relying on the voices of others. However, learning the system can prove very difficult for those who were long used to learning with visual stimulus prior to losing their sight.

Now experts behind Google Glass and Georgia Tech's revolutionary "Piano Touch" have advanced pre-existing strategies to expedite Braille learning through a system called "passive haptic learning" (PHL).

"We've learned that people can acquire motor skills through vibrations without devoting active attention to their hands," Thad Starner, a Georgia Tech professor and technical lead on Google's Project Glass, said in a statement.

Putting this knowledge into practice, Starner and his team had study participants wear a computerized glove that has small vibrating motors stitched into the knuckles. These motors vibrate in a sequence that correlates with a typing pattern of a premeditated phrase in Braille.

During the first half of the study, participants wearing the gloves were given an audio cue that let them know what Braille letters were produced through typing a particular sequence.

The participants were then asked to type out prompted phrases without the help or vibrators or audio cues. Lastly, the participants were asked to play a computer game for a half-hour as a distraction. During this time, half the participants were presented with repeated vibrations and audio cues while the other half served as a control - only receiving audio cues.

Remarkably, the researcher found that while actively using the glove, both participants earned a relatively speedy understanding of Braille. Interestingly, the passive learning group also proved to be even more effective at reading and writing Braille after the third phase of the experiment, compared to the control group.

"After the typing test, passive learners were able to read and recognize more than 70% of the phrase's letters," said study co-author Caitlyn Seim.

With these encouraging results in hand, Seim has already launched another study to compliment this one, where the glove is used to teach the full Braille alphabet - not just reading and typing cues.

She says that in preliminary findings, participants have already shown more than 90% accuracy in recognition of Braille letter after just four hours of learning.

The Braille studies will be presented in Seattle this September at the 18th International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC).

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