Imagine not seeing anything, nor hearing anything. Such communication obstacles affect all aspects of life. Many people with deaf-blindness communicate via tactile signing and also haptic signals (touch and movement) on the body. Researchers, led by a team at the University of Borås, are working to digitize and integrate these functionalities into a garment.
Haptic signing means that a person interprets the environment for the person with deaf-blindness by touching their back and other parts of the body. Halfway through the EU project called “SUITCEYES,” researchers have developed several prototypes of garments that can simulate these movements. (“SUITCEYES” stands for Smart, User-friendly, Interactive, Tactual, Cognition-Enhancer that Yields Extended Sensosphere.)
The name indicates that an entire toolbox of instruments to improve communication with people who are deaf-blind is being developed. The participants are responsible for different work packages within the project:
- The University of Borås is project coordinator and has an overarching responsibility, through Library and Information Science and Smart Textiles, for the development of the haptic communication and the smart interface via smart textiles.
- The Center for Research and Technology, Greece, CERTH, Greece, is responsible for facial and object recognition, data capture, translation and semantics.
- Offenburg University, Germany, is responsible for gamification and social interaction.
- University of Leeds, UK, responsible for electronics, user needs and user inclusion as well as studies of user needs and social inclusion, and environmental perception.
- Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands, is responsible for haptic psychophysics and for testing the prototypes.
- Les Doigts Qui Rêvent, France, a book publisher with direct contact with potential end users, is involved in spreading results and with other outreach activities.
- Harpo, Poland, a disability aid company, is responsible for spreading the results.
The garments have been developed in different generations. It started with a red dress, which became a black dress, a green vest and now they are at the fourth generation: a black vest with a checkered back in which each box can emit vibrations.
“Historically, textiles have always been something closely tied to humans. Now we are taking the next step and making textiles a tool for communication,” says Nils-Krister Persson, associate professor at the University of Borås.
The collaboration includes work to develop semantic interpretations of surroundings; an interface that can recognize objects and faces in the surroundings; sensor technology to detect obstacles in the environment; translating this into vibrations and other haptic signs.
“We are working on integrating all these parts so that the camera and the computer recognize what is going on in the room, sends information to a knowledge database, which quickly translates it into haptic signals, which the wearer feels on his back through the actuators in the garment,” he explains.
The latest generation of the prototypes will be produced in a larger number soon, so that the functions can begin to be tested scientifically. “But of course we still have many challenges remaining about costs, changes in behavior and purely practical issues,” says Persson. “But we are very positive about our possibilities for success.”
There will be a symposium about the project in Borås (Textile Fashion Center, Swedish School of Textiles at Borås) on August 22, 2019. It is open to anyone to attend.