Force-feedback pen helps teach blind children to write

1 min read

Most people take being able to write for granted, but for the visually impaired even simply signing a name can be a difficult task to master.

Glasgow University’s Prof Stephen Brewster has developed a method for helping to teach blind children to write using haptic technology.

Haptic technology is a method of interacting with computers through a sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations and/or motions to the user.

’If you’re blind you still need to write. For example, legal documents require a signature and it’s very difficult to learn to write because you’re not getting any visual feedback from the pen,’ Brewster said.

To help, he has developed a ’force-feedback’ pen that helps blind and visually impaired children write clearly and consistently by gently guiding their hand. Known as McSig, the system uses an off-the-shelf haptic device called the Phantom Omni: a stylus mounted at the end of a motorised arm that is capable of moving, and resisting movement, in three dimensions.

In tests with visually impaired children, Brewster found that after a 20-minute practice session on the haptic device, the children — many of whom were unable to write at all before their training — were able to write recognisable letters.

Recently, and in collaboration with the University of Auckland, he has been piloting the device in schools in Auckland.

’We have worked with pretty much every blind student under 16 years in the whole of Auckland and it seems to work surprisingly well,’ Brewster said.

’The device can guide or constrain certain types of movements, so as the teacher draws on a touch screen the movements are echoed directly back to the student, allowing the student to feel the movements and learn the letter shapes.’

Advanced tactile interfaces that enable users to ’feel’ the digital world could take our relationship with computers to a new level. Click here to read more (subscription required).