University of Iceland

Computer-connected white cane

Computer-connected white cane

Computers are more human than many realise. Human-computer interaction is researched within the field of computer science at the University of Iceland. It is an interdisciplinary field which connects computer science to other academic schools, supporting a better quality of life for disabled individuals in society. For the past few years, Ebba Þóra Hvannberg, Professor of Computer Science, has researched human-computer interaction. A touch cane for the blind is one of her research topics. The goal is to improve the communication between blind Fpeople and computers, for instance for the purpose of improving their access to mathematics. Ebba Þóra says this is an important step towards improving the quality of life for those who are blind.

"Experiments are being carried out to look at how blind people can use senses other than sight to experience things. Touching and feeling plays a leading role here, but sound and speech is added to further the possibilities of students. Instead of looking at functions and objects blind people can feel them with the touch cane, listen to instructions or sounds which leads them forward in their examination of the object."

The touch cane is sort of a hi-tech version of a white cane and is connected to a computer. "The type we have used most frequently involves the user controlling a type of pen on an arm," Ebba Þóra explains.

"When the user moves the pen it is like he or she is feeling the surface of an object, for instance a sphere or curve." There are many potential uses for the cane, for instance feeling various objects, and therefore it is not solely tied to mathematics teaching. "It is possible to use the cane to find places on a map, learn astronomy, and more. It is also exciting to see whether the touch cane can also assist those can see in their studies." Various research is being carried out, and recently research groups have focused on how such technology can strengthen people's social connections.

When developing a technology like the touch cane Ebba Þóra says it is necessary to cooperate with scientists within psychology and sociology. "It can also be necessary to cooperate with specialists within a subject, which in the case of our research is education. That's how we try and connect many academic schools into research on how blind people can use the touch cane to improve their grasp of mathematics."

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