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Erfassen your world! June 6, 2006

Posted by reto wettach in biofeedback, innovative interfaces, mobile, physical interaction design, rfid.
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I am using the word "Erfassen", because in German it means "to comprehend", but literally it translates into "touching".

A lot of interaction research is trying to enhance the experience of blind people. The digital cane is – of course – one of the favorite places to start such a new experience:

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The UltraCane is a cane, which informs the user of obstacles ahead through vibrating buttons in the handles. Different buttons tell the direction of the obstacle. Here is a nice animation of how the UltraCane works.

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The GuideCane (pdf here) by the University of Michigan is more complex, but also more academic: It not only recognizes obstacles, but also steers the blind person around.

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Another project was presented during the confenrence "Internation Symposium on Intelligent Environments" and is using RFID-technology for a similar purpose: SPOT-IT by the university of Bratislava, Slovakia, is suggesting a system for blind people, which provides contextual information about their surroundings. However, I am not so sure whether this is the right approach, especially as RFIDs have rather short-range reach. Furthermore do I think that there is such a big need for international agreements on standards that it will be difficult to make such a project come true (just think of the fact that there are more than 3 sign languages for German shows how difficult an agreement is in that field).

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Beyond tactile feedback, sound is also an interesting source for non-visual experience of the world and how to navigate it: This reminds me of a project by Haraldur Unnarsson, students in Ivrea, who used music to tell directions in a car navigation system: through emphasis on the left or right channel in the car's stereo system, the user is told how to navigate. Unfortunately this project is not findable online, only here.

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