“Proximity Hat” makes the blind see
The design goal of the Proximity Hat is creating a precise tool that provides spatial information to the user without the drawbacks of some existing systems: Sound and vibration signals can irritate the user distract attention and lack intuitiveness. The system that currently is in the test phase at the KIT’s chair of Pervasive Computing Systems, utilises pressure to stimulate the user. Towards this end, the hat contains pressure actuators, or punches. Six ultrasound modules with s assize of some 5 centimetres perform horizontal surround scans of the space around the with a range of several metres and a resolution of a few centimetres. To ensure fast, reliable information even if the user is moving, the scan frequency is 50 times per second.
While the ultrasound devices represent the sensor side of the system, the actuator role is implemented by a number of punches that are embedded in an elastic material. They transform distance information into pressure: The closer the user (and the hat) comes to an object, the harder they push against the user’s head.
Information transmission by means of pressure has rarely been subject to studies. “The Proximity Hat enhances sensory perceptions,” says Matthias Berning who supervised the research project. Feedback by pressure can be useful for visually impaired and blind persons and help them to evaluate their surroundings quickly, safely and comprehensively. Integrated into helmets, the system could also be useful for fire-fighters. It could help them to orientate themselves in rooms filled with smoke.
The principle of transmitting information through pressure has the advantage over other approaches that it does not affect other human senses. Existing solutions that make use of sound or vibration are frequently perceived as irritating, uncomfortable and annoying, said Berning.
According to professor Michael Beigl, Chair of Pervasive Computing at KIT, it is also conceivable to utilise this approach to enhance sensory impressions – for example, environmental hazards or air pollution could be translated into pressure impressions.
And the VR industry including game designers could also be interested, we believe.
More information: www.kit.edu