Advanced assistive technologies are critical to the well-being of the blind and visually impaired (BVI). Touch sensitive displays that can be operated by a variety of users are needed to gain information by the BVI community. Currently technology is not equipped with features that permit the BVI anytime/anywhere access and are not adaptable and convenient for use. This research project will develop tools that are based on electronic scanning technology adapted to a finger-wearable touch device that can be used to scan a variety of objects including Braille text.
In order to assist the Blind and Visually Impaired (BVI) community to "see", assistive tactile displays that are adaptive, sensorized, individualized, and portable are required. Currently available tactile assistive displays are not equipped with features that permit the BVI to "see" conveniently. This long-term CAREER goal is to facilitate the advances in electrotactile sensing, rendering, and computation into the next generation of smart, individual perception-centered, and portable assistive display to aid the BVI as well to establish a user-friendly and networked infrastructure for enhancing healthcare, learning capabilities and education. In particular, the research objective of this CAREER proposal is to investigate an electrotactile based Braille display technology that is electronic scanning-style, adaptive tactile preference rendering, and finger-wearable. This technology is based on electrical stimulation, and has both online skin bioimpedance sensing and tactile preference rendering functions, called E-Braille. This technology will allow the BVI to conveniently perform important tasks, such as reading, typing in Braille, browsing the Internet, engaging in online conversations, and perceiving graphics. Further, combined with cyber-infrastructure network technology, E-Braille will allow the BVI to conveniently access more documents, books, and libraries, anytime and anywhere. An equally important goal is the recruitment and training of the next generation of engineers who will emerge not only with a solid background in engineering and science disciplines but also have the passion and ability to contribute their expertise in multidisciplinary assistive and rehabilitative engineering areas. The success of this CAREER project will facilitate research to aid the BVI and will advance our fundamental understanding of electrotactile mechanisms. The major research focus is the development of an adaptive, individual perception-centered, and electrotactile-based Braille display for the BVI, known as E-Braille, which is unique as a fingerwearable electronic device, and will conveniently provide the BVI unlimited access to the information world. The display also will be the first of its kind to include online identification of individual tactile preferences as well as the ability for adaptive tactile preference tuning/rendering for individuals. Currently available Braille displays do not have these features. This CAREER proposal aims to advance the state of the art in portable seeing- assistive devices for the BVI. It will accomplish this goal through the development of EBraille, an affordable and innovative electrical stimulation-based Braille tactile display. This system will offer fast, refreshable information exchange. The proposed adaptive E-Braille will dramatically improve the quality of life of the BVI by allowing them to live more independently and with greater ease. As an integrative part of this project, the PI will develop educational materials inspired by the research results, directed toward students in multidisciplinary engineering program. The research results also will inspire an outreach effort aimed at attracting K-12 students, women, under-represented minorities, and persons with disabilities (e.g., the BVI) to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines as well as to participate in this exciting and cutting-edge research project. Finally, both research and educational results will be disseminated by means of presentations at conferences, publications in peer-reviewed journals, web portals, magazines, newspapers, TV and other media, and to the community involved in BVI assistive technology and systems