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Haptic technology is a concrete feedback technology that utilizes the sense of touch of users through the use of force, motions and vibrations. These physical stimulations are used to create virtual objects and for the improvement of the remote control of machines and devices. This same technology is used in computer operations for the sense of touch, in doing work that is equivalent computer graphics and allows the display of virtual objects to users in an interactive manner. This technology is particularly important to the learning and general movement of the visually impaired who uses a bigger percentage of the sense of touch and audio sound in identifying information as well as direction through the imitation of three dimensional space and by getting tactile feedback that can be interpreted by the user (Haptic technology 2010).
Conceptual Design of a Haptic Technology
1) Basic system configuration
Haptic technology consists of the human part and the machine part. The human part, senses through the help of nerve receptors, the brain processes and the muscles actualizes the actual movement and controls the position of the hand. The machine part applies force to stimulate the virtual object through the encoders, computer that processes and the motors for movement (Streng 2008).
2) Haptic information
The sensory information generated by the system is in the form of Tactile and Kinesthetic information. Tactile information is the information obtained by the sensors connected to the human body based on the spatial distribution of pressure and vibrations of the object and traction across the finger tip. This same technique is used by doctors in medical palpation. Kinesthetic information on the other hand, involves the sensors obtained in the body joints. These two types of information are necessary to a visually impaired in identifying objects around the environment and movement of body part like hand of movement from one place to another (Lecuyer, Cuquillart & Coiffet 2001)
Creation of Virtual Environment
Haptic technology helps in the formation of virtual environment either in real or imaginary world. This technology assists simulate the real environments into virtual objects that are displayed in computer screens or stereoscopically (Mullins 2009). The reproduction also includes conversion of tactic and kinesthetic information into other sensory media like the use of sound through headphones and speakers that can be heard directly by the virtually impaired. By using use of area map or the Google maps, a visually impaired person uses Haptic technology to simulate real environmental objects like identifiable streets, building into virtual objects to easily navigate or move from point A to point B by creating creation of cognitive maps (Onuka 2000). For example, a pilot simulates environment and matches with distance to reach the right direction through the screen that creates virtual environment. This software also identifies the destination from one location when set, and simply issues audio instruction whether to turn right or left until the expected destination is reached. This is the same procedure that should be used by a visually impaired person in planning for movement from one point to the next (Hersh, & Johnson 2008).
For a visually impaired pedestrian, another additional instrument is the walking stick that helps notice some immediate emergency changes and barriers along the streets like potholes, pavements, street light poles among others that would easily knock and harm the person. The use of the walking stick is supported by the virtual information already built and conceptualized by the visually impaired. When using computers, the visually impaired gets access to Google maps and websites that clearly give direction the location (Julka 2006). Equally, the by wearing gloves and other devices, the visually impaired person can be alerted by one in a control room through the use of the computer software that send and receive signals to issue instructions on the safe direction to take and the risks involved.
These are devices that give the user an opportunity to interact with a computer by receiving feedback responses and sharing concurrent information between the users and the computers, including information on the conditions of the road surface to a visually impaired driver (Kim 2010). The major haptic devices used in this technology include; haptic pedal that control automobiles and aircraft through centrally controlled computer signals, haptic mouse that produces sensations and vibrations felt by the users, haptic phones that are fitted with tactile technology that play music, show video and perform other phone related duties in tactile beats, rhythms and effects. Such effects include reading a message received on the phone and producing audio sound of the name of the caller (Stanford Report, 2003: Ellingwood 2006).
Haptic and Education
Haptic technology provides a perfect platform of educating the visually impaired to be self-reliant since they can move, learn and do anything themselves without depending on other people for direction, cleaning and movement from one place to another. The visually impaired are trained to use computer virtual information system in learning, map reading, driving, flying, location identification and reading the braille’s. This makes the blind to operate their activities normally just as one with normal site (Gilbert, Reiner & Nakhleh 2008p: Harley, Truan, & Sanford 1987).
The technology advancement in the recent years has made life very manageable for the physically challenged. The visually impaired have as well benefited through the haptic technology that utilizes the touch sense in identification of objects through force, vibrations and motions. This helps the virtually impaired create virtual information from the real objects through the help of computers. It also helps in identifying directions, positions and makes locomotion and mobility very easy alongside making learning in schools and colleges easy. This technology should therefore, be fully utilized to tap the full potential of the visually impaired in society.