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EuroHaptics 2018 award for ground-breaking new deafblind communication device

Vincent Hayward, Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the Institute of Philosophy (IP), School of Advanced Study, has won the best hands-on demonstration award at the 2018 EuroHaptics international conference for a device that will help deafblind people communicate remotely.

HaptiComm a device created for Deafblind individuals
HaptiComm a device created for Deafblind individuals and offers direct speech to Haptic language translation at speeds up to 12-14 actuations per second.

Deafblind individuals use a system of communication that involves rapid hand and finger movements to touch the other’s fingers and hand. This highly effective form of communication requires individuals to be physically in touch with one another. However, this new invention will enable people to communicate at a distance.

The winning device ‘ HaptiComm’ uses specifically designed tactile transducers to provide sensations that closely resemble those elicited by real fingers tapping and sliding on the skin of the palm and fingers,’ explains Professor Hayward. ‘These sensations, which must be felt with speed and clarity, are the fundamental elements on which tactile communication is built. They differ dramatically from the diffuse buzzing sensations given by vibrations motors found in portable devices, or from the jolts felt in gamepads.’

Working with IP research fellow Sven Topp from Australia, and PhD candidate Basil Duvernoy, Professor Hayward has developed an affordable technology capable of reproducing the formal deafblind communication method, which can be learned quickly.

HaptiComm offers direct speech to Haptic language translation at speeds of up to 12–14 actions per second. This means that a person can speak normally into a machine at one location and the communication is converted into a sequence of haptic codes that can be sent across the internet. At the other end, a deafblind person just puts his or her hand on to the plastic frame/shell of the HaptiComm device (see picture below and video) and a series of small rods move up through the frame to provide the tactile feedback that spells out letters and words to the user. 

The haptic language is identical to that which Sven Topp, who is deafblind, uses with his interpreters converting speech and text into tactile stimuli. He says, 'The overall design and principles of HaptiComm allow for a large range of design implementation, input and tactile domain output that provides a remarkable breadth in its applications as a communication platform.'

Deafblindness dramatically affects the communication capacity of around 100,000 Australians and 350,000 people in the UK. These figures are expected to rise as the population ages. Lack of visual and auditory communication channels can prevent deafblind individuals from enjoying meaningful interactions with people and their environment. This can lead to depression and a plethora of other mental health issues.

Read more on the Schools of Advanced Study website