The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the US National Federation of the Blind (NFB) are working together to test a prototype technology developed by NIST that provides the blind and visually impaired with access to electronic images in the same way that Braille makes words readable.
NFB members will ‘field test’ the new device, known as a tactile graphic display, so that NIST researchers can get first-hand input on how the technology may be improved for future commercialisation.
According to its designers, the prototype graphic display conveys scanned illustrations, map outlines or other graphical images to the fingertips, and can translate images displayed on Internet Web pages or in electronic books. It uses refreshable tactile graphic display technology, allowing a person to feel a succession of images on a reusable surface.
The machine uses about 3,600 small pins that can be raised in any pattern, and then locked into place to hold the pattern for reading. The pins then can be withdrawn and reset in a new pattern, allowing the tactile reading to continue through a variety of images.
Each image is sent electronically to the device, which uses software to determine how to create a tactile display that matches the image.
The inspiration for the tactile graphic display came from a ‘bed of nails’ toy found in a novelty store.