GRAB system to aid the blind nominated for Descartes Prize

Derio 14 July 2005Involving six partners from four European countries, the IST GRAB project developed a system to allow blind and visually impaired people to access three-dimensional computer graphics through the senses of touch and hearing. The GRAB project - which is among 14 projects competing for the European Commission's 1,15 million euro Descartes Research Prize, the winners of which will be announced in London on December 2 - forms part of ongoing research by Fundación Labein in Spain and the other project partners into haptic and audio technologies to aid people who are visually impaired.

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"Being nominated for the Descartes Prize is very gratifying; it's an important recognition of our work", stated Teresa Gutierrez, co-ordinator of a short-listed project competing for the Descartes Prize for outstanding scientific work by a multinational team of researchers. "We always saw the potential of this technology and we're pleased that others see it as well", stated Teresa Gutierrez, a researcher at Fundación Labein in Spain.

The GRAB system allows users to feel the geometric features of 3D graphics through a force-feedback haptic interface connected to two articulated arms in which users place their index finger or thumb of each hand. Combined with audio information, the system allows users to recognise the geometric features of virtual objects, and calculate distances and spatial relationships between them.

"There are a wide variety of applications for this technology, not just for the visually impaired but also for medical and industrial training in virtual environments", Teresa Gutierrez explained. "In the project we developed three application scenarios to test the system."

A 3D city map allowed visually-impaired users to recognise streets and plan routes in advance; a chart data explorer allowed them to feel the information contained in graphs; and an adventure game let them explore a virtual building.

"The game was particularly liked by trial users who to date have largely been confined to non-interactive static games, while the chart explorer allows visually-impaired people to visualise in their minds the performance of say a company on the stock market", the co-ordinator stated. "Overall the reactions were very positive; almost everyone noted that it allows them to do things they couldn't do before."

Nonetheless, Teresa Gutierrez stated that the technology needs to be refined further and the cost of the system brought down before a commercial product can be released. With that goal in mind some of the project partners have set up a network of excellence to continue their research.

For more information you can contact Teresa Gutierrez at Fundación Labein, Edificio 700, C/ Geldo - Parque Tecnológico de Bizkaia, E-48160 Derio, Spain, Tel.: +34-94-6073306, Fax: +34-94-6073349 or visit the GRAB project Web site. This article was reprinted from the IST Results Web site.


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