The loss of one’s sense of hearing or vision is likely to be devastating in the way that it impacts daily life. Fortunately many workarounds exist using one’s remaining senses — such as sign language — but what if not only your sense of hearing is gone, but you are also blind? Fortunately here, too, a workaround exists in the form of tactile signing, which is akin to visual sign language, except that it uses one’s sense of touch. This generally requires someone who knows tactile sign language to translate from spoken or written forms to tactile signaling. Yet what if you’re deaf-blind and without human assistance? This is where a new robotic system could conceivably fill in.
Developed by Tatum Robotics, the Tatum T1 is a a robotic hand and associated software that’s intended to provide this translation function, by taking in natural language information, whether spoken, written or in some digital format, and using a number of translation steps to create tactile sign language as output, whether it’s the ASL format, the BANZSL alphabet or another. These tactile signs are then expressed using the robotic hand, and a connected arm as needed, ideally using ASL gloss to convey as much information as quickly as possible, not unlike with visual ASL.
This also answers the question of why one would not just use a simple braille cell on a hand, as the signing speed is essential to keep up with real-time communications, unlike when, say, reading a book or email. A robotic companion like this could provide deaf-blind individuals with a critical bridge to the world around them. Currently the Tatum T1 is still in the testing phase, but hopefully before long it may be another tool for the tens of thousands of deaf-blind people in the US today.
There are 3.6 Million deafblind people in the world, and by far their greatest problem is one of communication. For his entry for the Hackaday Prize, our own miracle worker on hackaday.io is creating a system that enables haptic communication for a variety of devices. It’s called Tact-Tiles, and instead of creating a single device, [Anderson] is building an entire system that enables a multitude of communication devices for deafblind people.
The basic unit of the Tact Tile system is a small, touch sensitive vibrating pad. These tiny PCBs can be fitted to just about anything, including a wired glove, or whatever haptic interface anyone can dream up. The core of the device is a small PCB that can control 32 of these vibrating pads, and communicates with a smartphone or computer over a Bluetooth connection.
With a little bit of software, the Tact Tiles can be configured an any way imaginable, with mapping individual tiles to letters of the alphabet, mapping gestures to letters, or any combination in between. [Anderson] has a great video demoing the possibility of his device, you can check that out below.
If you’ve been killing time texting or chatting with your pals via smart phone, odds are pretty good that you’re not giving much thought to the two senses that make it happen: your sight and your hearing. Those who are deafblind, however, cannot participate in these activities; and for many, the remote communication that most of us enjoy with our phones simply isn’t possible. Enter Berlin University of the Arts Design Research Lab. Here, they’ve developed the Mobile Lorm Glove, a haptics device that enables two-way remote communication via smart phone.
For the deafblind, Lorm is the tactile technique for communication. Lorm is a series of hand-tracing gestures that map to characters of the alphabet. To communicate with others, the gloved user can trace Lorm directly onto the pressure-sensitive inputs on the palm of the hand. To receive messages, small vibration motors on the back of the hand vibrate to indicate the message encoded in Lorm.
Originally, to communicate with the deafblind, we must first learn Lorm. With the Mobile Lorm Glove, however, we need only know how to send text messages, and the Lorm-decoding is handled with a look-up table running on our classic Atmega328 microcontroller. For the sharp-eyed, the back-side of the glove seems limited in its capability to transcribe continuous finger traces into discrete motor vibrations. However, with four shift-registers and 32 levels of motor-intensities, the designers address each motor with a technique called “funneling illusion” where continuous movement is simulated by gradually changing the intensity from motor to motor. For more tricks and details, take a look at their conference paper.
By wearing the glove, everyday communication can be made far easier with anyone with a smart phone. We’re jazzed that just a Bluetooth module, an Atmega328, and a collection of pressure sensors and motors can enable any cell phone user to circumvent the learning curve and open up a new conversation.