US researchers have developed a new sleeve technique that can help learn and read messages through a sense of touch, an advance that would benefit people with visual and hearing impairments.
The haptic method of communications lets users receive messages through the skin on the forearm by learning to interpret signals such as a buzzing sensation.
“I’m excited about this… imagine a future where you’re able to wear a sleeve that discreetly sends messages to you — through your skin — in times when it may be inconvenient to look at a text message,” said lead researcher Hong Tan, Professor at the Purdue University in the US.
“I’m really hoping this takes off as a general idea for a new way to communicate. The hearing-impaired, the visually impaired, everyone can benefit,” Tan said.
In the study, presented at the Proceedings of EuroHaptics 2018 conference in Pisa, Italy, subjects used a material cuff encircling the forearm from the wrist to below the elbow. The instrument, wrapped around the test subject’s non-dominant arm, featured 24 factors that, when stimulated, emitted a vibration against the skin, changing quality and position in the process.
Tan noted that the 39 phonemes (units of sound in a language that distinguish one word from another) in the English language were mapped using signals from specific factors.
The sounds of consonants such as K, P and T were stationary sensations on different areas of the arm, while vowels were indicated by stimulations that moved up, down or around the forearm.
Twelve subjects learned haptic symbols through the phoneme-based method at a schedule of 100 words in 100 minutes for the research, while 12 others learned using a word-based system with the haptic signals on their arm.
“Using phonemes was more efficient compared to letters, noting there are less phonemes in a word compared with the number of letters,” Tan said.