The Unfolding Space Glove transmits the relative position and distance of nearby objects as vibratory stimuli to the back of the hand, enabling blind people to haptically explore the depth of their surroundings. The talk will give a brief overview of the design research project, from the first prototypes to an empirical study and its publication, and provide insights into the underlying hardware and software.
Being born blind or losing sight is a major challenge, as it impairs the ability to acquire information about surroundings, to manage everyday life independently and, consequently, to participate equally in social, public and economic life. Technical aids developed to assist VIPs with certain tasks work well in the laboratory but regularly fail in practice because they are bulky or user-unfriendly. As a result, the target group resorts to traditional tools or simply lives with the shortcomings. Given the rapid changes in technology and low cost of digital tools, I saw great potential in addressing this issue as an interaction design project.
The result is an open-source Sensory Substitution device – the Unfolding Space Glove: it transmits the relative position and distance of nearby objects, detected by an on-board 3D camera, to the back of the hand in the form of vibratory stimuli. This allows the user to haptically explore the depth of the surrounding space and assists with navigation tasks such as object recognition and wayfinding. The prototype requires no external hardware, is highly portable, works in all lighting conditions, and provides continuous and immediate feedback – all while being visually unobtrusive.
The basic premise of the proposed concept of Sensory Substitution is that the function of a missing or impaired human sensory modality can be replaced by stimulating another sensory modality using the missing information. This only works because the brain is plastic enough to learn to associate the new stimuli with the missing modality, as long as they share the same basic characteristics. There have been a number of projects looking at this, but so far very few practical implementations have been proposed, which in turn are used by a negligible number of people. While the technology used is sometimes highly sophisticated, design and usability often suffer.
Taking into account the problems of existing devices and specifically addressing usability and interaction design requirements, the Unfolding Space Glove was designed and developed in a four-year interaction design research project. In 2021, the prototype was tested in an empirical study with 14 sighted and blind subjects, the results of which were published in a scientific, peer-reviewed paper in 2022.
I would like to introduce you to the field of Sensory Substitution, share this project with you, show pitfalls, problems (for me coming from a non-IT background) and some technical details and ask for your feedback and input. I will have the device with me if you want to have a closer look at it after the talk. Testing would only be possible in smaller groups by appointment.
This Talk was translated into multiple languages. The files available for download contain all languages as separate audio-tracks. Most desktop video players allow you to choose between them.
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