In the 19th Century, communication technology took a great leap forward with the telegraph, that let people “write” over great distances. Early in the last century, the telephone revolutionized communications again by letting people talk and listen to each other over great distances. Then came television, which let us experience images and sounds over great distances. German researchers at the Design Research Lab at the Berlin Institute of the Arts have developed a project that could lead to “teletouch” which lets people interact by touching.
This may seem like a trivial task, but for a small segment of the population, it is a doorway to a whole new world of interaction. Individuals who are both deaf and blind cannot rely on sight or sound to communicate with others. One of the solutions for these people is the Lorm Alphabet, a way of spelling using touch gestures traced out on the hand of the other person. Obviously, the two people have to be in close proximity in order to communicate in this way. Also, it takes practice to learn to communicate in this way, and few people master the skill. As a result, deaf and blind individuals often have few people that they can “talk” to using this method.
The researchers have created “Mobile Lorm Gloves” that can be worn by two people who are separated by great distances. Sensors on the palm of the glove track the individual’s gestures, which are relayed by Bluetooth to a smartphone. From there, the data is transmitted to the recipient’s smartphone, which actuates small vibrating motors on the back of the recipient’s glove to recreate the gestures. In this way, a two-way conversation can be held even though the two people are far apart.
Since the system is based on spelling, however, the glove can also send text messages to anyone’s smart phone. And when a person sends a text in reply, the original sender’s glove will translate the letters into gestures. As a result, Lorm spellers can use the glove to converse with people who don’t know how to use the gesture alphabet. As a result, deaf and blind individuals are able to communicate with a much larger number of people than in the past, whether they are in the same room or around the world, without the need for a human translator.