Touch-screen handsets may be the talk of the town, but they are useless to the visually impaired. A new software developed by Jussi Rantala and his colleagues at the University of Tampere in Finland attempts to address that by bringing Braille to touch-enabled mobile devices.
The team installed a software on the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet with a piezoelectric layer that "displays" a raised dot on the touch screen with a single intense vibration and an absent one with a longer and weaker pulse.
They came up with two methods of presenting Braille. The first requires test volunteers to swipe their fingers across the screen to read each of the six dots in the 2 x 3 matrix in Braille.
The second method generated a sequence of six dots, each 360 milliseconds apart, when the user taps and holds on the character. It turned out the volunteers were more comfortable with the latter option, though not without some learning and getting used to.
While the experiment is new, the technology isn't. What Rantala and team are doing is essentially taking what is currently available (devices with piezoelectric layers) and introducing new applications to it. In this case, it shouldn't be too long before reading Braille on touch-screen devices becomes mainstream.