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Feb 07, 2017 09:01 AM EST

Purdue University Scientists Create Haptic Device That Helps Blind People 'See'

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Scientists at Purdue University were able to develop a haptic device that lets blind people "see." The device converts visual data into tactile information that can be felt by the visually-impaired.

New Scientist reported that Ting Zhang of Purdue University in Indiana and her team created a system that uses a haptic device to help visually-impaired people interpret visual information through their hands. Zhang said that they want to help blind people who are studying science with the device.

The device is a joystick that is connected to a computer and a microscope. Users will just need to move the joystick to study microscopic images, such as blood smears.

There are different things that the joystick will do for different parts of the image. It will push back against the user's hand when it hovers over the wall of a blood cell and vibrates in order to simulate various textures.

They tested the haptic device on people who are blind or who wearing a blindfold. The participants were able to differentiate between red and white blood cells with the sensory information. Zhang noted that the participants of the study got meaningful information about the objects' texture, shape and color without seeing them.

The system utilizes computer vision algorithms to get the important features of an image. Afterwards, it reconstructs the image virtually which is used for the interaction with the participant through the haptic device.

There have already been several tools developed for visually-impaired people to help them read text such as braille and text-to-speech software. Another is Guidesense which, according to Digital Trends, uses millimeter wave radar sensors to detect obstacles in the environment and relay that information to the user through haptic and audio feedback.

However, Zhang admitted that these are usually time-consuming and relies heavily on non-visually-impaired people to process the data. Their system allows blind people to interpret the images from a microscope in real-time. Zhang revealed that they hope that their device would encourage more visually-impaired people to study science.

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