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Haptic Technology to Assist a Virtually Impaired Person

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According to business dictionary, a disabled person is a person with medically ascertainable impairments, or with significant loss of functional ability to carry on with normal or everyday activities. Disability is usually measured by the degree to which the disabled person is unable to engage in gainful economic activity on a regular basis. According to ADA, Americans with disability act, disability is defined as a mental or physical symptom of reduced quality or strength that significantly limits one or a set of regular life activities. It also states clearly that a vital life activity as one that a normal average person can perform with minimal or no difficulties like seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, or sleeping.

Visual impairment is one of the common disabilities in the whole world today. According to American Foundation for the Blind, it is estimated that ten million people in the United States are visually impaired. It refers to any kind of vision loss; this includes full blindness or limited vision loss. When a parts of the eye or brain involved in the processing of images become infected by a disease or physically damaged or destroyed, full or partial loss of vision can occur. In such cases, vision cannot be restored with medical treatment, corrective lenses like glasses or contacts or even surgery. Some people are blind while others have legal blindness, i.e. they have not lost their sight completely but, they cannot see objects 200 feet away as a normal person would see it, unless they are 20 feet from the object.

In several cases, people with disabilities are neglected and left out in economic activities. Several studies have shown that if well equipped with necessary-aid tools, persons with disabilities have fared almost equally with normal persons. Haptic technology can be of enormous help in designing aid tools for persons with disabilities.

Haptics is defined as the science of touch. It lets computer users interact with virtual worlds by the sense of touch or feel. Scientists use computers to simulate the effect of a golf club hitting the ball in sports also the springiness of a kidney under forceps in biology, in science.

A tool that enables computer users to perceive and control the objects displayed on their screens as demonstrated by a student, François Conti. Inside the Lab of Kenneth Salisbury, a professor of computer science and surgery. Communication is an essential tool to any living being amid any form of impairment. It should be taken into serious consideration when designing any tool to improve the quality of life of the visually impaired persons. Communication is easy to learn provided a specific and appropriate method for a particular user this also applies to the blind and visually impaired. Designing with haptic technology and mode of technology can be effectively used to come up with a design to help aid such people in planning and navigating a journey on their own. Different circumstances of the user’s perception, ability, location and experience influence the device’s design.

Our perceptual experience of the world around us emerges as a combination of related inputs from one or two of our senses. Vision and audition sensory modalities have been researched in details. Touch has been somehow ignored for way too long until the last decade. To successfully explore an object haptically, the sense of touch yields significant information regarding the submission, texture, shape and heat conductivity as key qualities of an object.

Touching process can also be thought of With regard to sound or the ear. It is supported by visual stimulus pertaining the objects outward structure and surface properties. This has resulted to researchers hypothesizing touch as more of a reality sense than the rest of human senses (Taylor, Lederman & Gibson, 1973). In the real sense, it is likely that the touch sensations combine with several other senses to give rise to this impression of "reality". The perception of something touched being somehow more real may also be as a result of the historic sense of illusions that somehow appealed to the sense of touch in the past. When a human subject tries to determine his current position with respect to the prominent points, his entire body is considered to be a physical object of the entire environment. This spatial knowledge requires the capacity of using our sensory system in the environment to refer to it. Precisely, during navigation, i.e. a displacement of the whole body, the subject need to have knowledge of the position of the starting or reference point also the final points and to update the current position. Vision is paramount involved in this process, identifying the common landmarks remains a main challenge for blind people during navigation.

In this respect, virtual reality constitutes valuable tools that present to the blind, or visually impaired people with a realistic and visceral interface devoted to the development of spacial knowledge. Particularly, they can make appropriate use of haptic maps when coming up with the cartographic information when using a computer controlled, motorized device held by the hand. Such a device produces a force as the feed back when the user touches a virtual object. Rice, Jacobson, Jones and Golledge (2005), suggested that, in some circumstances, haptic can also be a replacement for other sensory system like vision. Jansson and Pederson (2005) endeavored to enable blind people to touch and feel virtual geographical environments with a haptic mouse coupled with a Phantom Omni device, but the gains of these new devices do not bring significant improvement. Later Jacobson et al. (2005) used force-feedback mouse and auditory pronouns to give a varying modal interface that allows more comprehensive feedback.

The main objective is to come up with a haptic tool design that will improve the ability of a visually impaired person to access geographical information. This tool will enable the person to navigate via a haptic device and via a tactile map.

In Prototype development, the procedures used by the brain to perform intuitive tasks like to decode the data stored in maps are exceedingly complex and difficult to imitate using computers. Since maps are perceived using visual modality, it is extremely difficult for the visually impaired persons to use them. The design solution of a map, which can be used by visually impaired should contain the following features; an audio-to-text plug-in, tablet-PC input, and disabling/deactivating screen. The audio-to-text plug-in receives an audio command given by the user, and registers it as text in the appropriate text field and this is used to record the travelling points. The tablet is connected wireless to facilitate haptic computer interaction. The screen should be disabled so that the user does not encounter any navigation error.

 Magnetic clay tablet is used to create a digital impression board that take the appearance of a tablet and is used to communicate with the user’s computer and imprints images onto the board. The concept used here is manipulating the magnetic field with the use of electromagnetic forces (Takeno, 1999). This tablet is used to enable the following functionalities; imprint of map route-This feature ensures that the route you have chosen can be interacted with and explored upon. It also helps the user to figure out and form an image of what the route looks like before starting the journey. (ii). Customizable button initiators- these button initiators can be used by the user to give his feedback to the computer.

Haptic pen is used to handle the following functionalities; Automated nib-changer- this allows user to feel the texture of the selected route. Thumb press button- if a voice is created by the user and it not meant to respond to the system, thumb press button identifies it. Finger-tip grip- using vibrations and pulses the finger tip grip which is able to provide haptic feedback to indicate different messages. In built microphone- voice commands from the thumb-press user are received by the in built microphone for transcription.

The execution stage will include a Ultra cane this is used for object detection and giving feedback to the user. When using the cane, the following additional functions should be made; probe texture detection, GPS track automation, checks on Security and retract ability. The cane should be modified to allow the user to stop whenever there is an obstacle and direct him/her to the correct route if he goes astray.

To implement the plan, existing devices can be used to implement the design concept instead of coming up with new designs. Some devices may need modification so that they can meet your functionality e.g. the cane has to be modified in order to meet functions we require from it. 

Basic System Components include, hardware Device Specification Function, a planning PC connected to the internet, haptic pen, magnetic clay tablet, Ultra cane for navigating the streets, Software Device Specification Function, Planning browser, command prompt, Software for tablet to PC connection interaction

Haptic navigation is very powerful and has a lot of potentials both in virtual environments and the real-world situations. There are many benefits it offers for the visually impaired one of them being the ability to navigate maps in a computer. More research should be done in order to develop a real design concept.

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