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Wearable Computing Gloves Can Teach You Braille When You Don't Pay Attention

First Posted: Jun 24, 2014 07:42 AM EDT

Scientists have created a tool that makes learning Braille easier than ever. They made a technology-enhanced glove that can help people learn to read and write in Braille while they're doing something else.

"The process is based on passive haptic learning (PHL)," said Thad Starner, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We've learned that people can acquire motor skills through vibrations without devoting active attention to their hands."

So how do these gloves work? Participants wore a pair of gloves with tiny vibrating motors stitched into the knuckles. These motors vibrated in a sequence that corresponded to Braille. In addition, audio cues let the users know the Braille letters produced by typing that sequence. Then after, all of the volunteers tried to type the phrase one time, without the cues or vibrations, on keyboard. This sequence was then repeated during a distraction task during which participants played a game for 30 minutes and were told to ignore the gloves.

So what did they find? It turns out that even when distracted by the game, volunteers learned the sequence.

"Those in the control group did about the same on their second attempt (as they did in their pre-study baseline test)," said Starners. "But participants who felt the vibrations during the game were a third more accurate. Some were event perfect. Remarkably, we found that people could transfer knowledge learned from typing Braille to reading Braille. After the typing test, passive learners were able to read and recognize more than 70 percent of the phrase's letters."

The findings reveal a possible new way to teach people how to read Braille. This could be a huge and useful tool for the visually impaired. Currently, the researchers are planning to conduct another study to teach the full Braille alphabet to participants during four sessions.

The findings will be presented this September at the 18th International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC).

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