Sile O’Modhrain receives NSF grant to help develop braille technology

Sile O’Modhrain, an associate professor in the School of Information and the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, recently received a $226,000 National Science Foundation grant to help create a full-page refreshable digital braille display.

Sile O'Modhrain

Professor Modhrain will be working with Brent Gillespie, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the U-M College of Engineering, and  co-PI Valerie S. Morash of the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute on the multi-phased two-year project. "Collaborative Research: Malleable Media to Support Interaction through Bi-Directional Touch Displays" promises to revolutionize how blind people interact with digital media.

In addition to presenting braille text, a large and dense array of dots can be raised individually to render tactile graphics or images for the sense of touch.

Some technology has already been developed for the project. However, new paradigms for use and interaction will have to be designed, supported by science grounded in haptics and HCI, the researchers said. New interaction paradigms will mix text and graphics and convey meaning through special layout, tactile symbols and extended braille elements.

“We propose to combine our device with appropriate sensing technology to create an exciting new field of interaction paradigms with tangible media.”

The researchers propose to develop new interaction paradigms involving malleables that support interaction with digital media and go way beyond traditional haptic rendering through a stylus and beyond the touchscreen with rich application for both blind and sighted users.

“We have at our disposal a technology that will revolutionize access to media for tables and portable computing devices and we want to be sure that such new user interfaces are immediately available to support entirely new modes of interaction for blind and sighted computer users,” O'Modhrain said.

They researchers are also interested in exploring how blind and sighted users can communicate and collaborate with each other through computing devices equipped with such a malleable display. The addition of these capabilities to their existing technology is also intended to expand the repertoire of touch responses that sighted users might expect from future flat screen devices. 

Posted June 23, 2017