A blind undergraduate is developing an audio-tactile graphics display (TGD) that turns scientific and mathematical diagrams and graphs into a touchable format, in an attempt to make life easier for visually impaired students. Jim Drury reports.
Daniel Hajas went blind five years ago, aged 17. He's adapted well, moving from Hungary to study at Sussex University in England. And while undertaking his degree he's made a proof-of-concept device that could help transform the lives of other visually impaired science students. Alongside sighted student David Turner, he's devised hardware and software for this audio-tactile graphics display. SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL HAJAS (PRON: HY-ASH), BLIND PHYSICS STUDENT AT UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, SAYING: "We do have the tactile graphic display, which is the actual hardware supporting the multi modality display of images, but also it comes with a software which helps people to draw and animate graphics." Graphs, shapes, and diagrams are all translated by the machine using taxels - or tactile pixels. SOUNDBITE (English) DAVID TURNER, ASTROPHYSICS STUDENT AT UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, SAYING: "The tactile pixels are all connected to a servo, so each taxel has a servo each. The servo is a motor which will rotate though 180 degrees from nought to 180. So at zero degrees the taxel is fully lowered and at 180 it's fully raised and in this model at least they go between nought centimetres and one centimetre." SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL HAJAS (PRON: HY-ASH), BLIND PHYSICS STUDENT AT UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, SAYING: "I put my hands on the device so I can basically more or less feel the whole surface, so that's what's what I would normally do just with my fingers when the taxels are closely packed. Of course, with my senses in my whole hand I could just feel which are the points that are raising up and just from there I could feel the pattern and I could easily visualise a graphical image, what's happening." The pair have also developed software that converts graphs into audio explanations. They're now working on improving the actuators and miniaturising their design. They say a commercially viable, inexpensive device could be launched within five years.