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A non-technical introduction to the HaptiComm Platform

by Sven Topp
v1.1 [view revision history]

is a unique dual sensory disability. People who are Deafblind hace impairment or loss of both their vision and hearing. This impairment of both senses is to a level so that one sense may not be used to substitute the other. For example, a Deaf person may substitute hearing with visual cues or sign language while a blind person might use audio descriptions. Neither of these are a possibility for someone who is Deafblind.

The World Federation of the Deafblind states that between 0.2% - 2% of the population is affected by Deafblindness to some degree. As the average age of the population increases the number of Deafblind people  will also rise due to the main group being over 45 years of age with acquired impairments. The key impact (which we focus on here) if lack of access to communication and information. Such poor access  impacts on day-to-day inclusion, education outcomes and often leads to isolation which is known to cause mental health issues such as depression.

While challenges in communication exist it is important to recognise that techniques are available. However, due to the isolation a lot of these develop almost independantly and without external influence leading to high variability in types and their complexities. One key feature is common though, the use of the haptic channel as the primary relay of audio and visual information.

The HaptiComm - Haptic Communicator - was introduced to the Haptic, Deafblind and Industry communities in 2018. This was done at three consecutive demonstration sessions, Eurohaptics 2018 where HaptiComm won "Best Hands-On Demonstration", University of sydney Student Innovation Awards where the project won "Best Research Application" category and a general display at the Helen Keller World Conference. One key question tends to arise "What is HaptiComm?".

HaptiComm is a combined hardware and software platform that embodies a paradigm shift in accessibility, adaptive technology and disability-centric design principles. This shift is achieved through a focus, not on a person who wishes to communicate with a Deafblind indivdual through speech, but on the Deafblind individual themselves and recognising the sheer variety and complexity of their natural language(s). The project is currently open-source and non-for-profit and is intended for use by the Deafblind sector for communication purposes as well as offering developmental opportunities for the Haptics community.

Given these principles and complexities "What is HaptiComm?" may not be the right question, perhaps one should really be asking "What do you want the HaptiComm to be and to do?".

HaptiComm currentlu demonstrates 2 different form factors which are an indication of applications of the hardware and software platform. The original form factor is shaped similar to an ergonomic mouse to support the entire hand underneath it. It comprises 24 actuators and is capable of representing most Deafblind languages that involve the generation of tactile sensations into the palm and fingers of a receivers hand. Asecond device design looks similar to a Perkin's braille machine layout and comprises only 6 actuators (to generate braille cells). Both systems rely on the same underlying hardware and software with the configuration file merely being changed dependant on which language you wish to generate.

Both of these form factors are predominantly 3D printed to allow for high levels of personalisation in the hardware layout. For a HaptiComm that is shaped like a hand, a mould is made and then laser scanned to produce a 3D model of the hand surface at rest. The HaptiComm Braille does not quite require this level of sophistication and can be mroe easily printed ina  generic form.

HaptiComm is highly flexible both in its hardware and software modifications. The following hardware can be changed:
  • Physical shape and size
  • Size and shape of actuator tips
  • Materis used to print the device
  • Layout and density of the actuator array

The following modifications can be made to the software:
  • Audio waveform pattern that drives the actuators
  • Pattern associated with a character, symbol, word, idea or concept
  • Playback duration on each actuator
  • Timing between and within patterns
  • Intensity of the vibration generated
  • Intensity of a generated tap sensation

Definitions are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.

A servomechanism that supplies and transmits a measured amount of energy for the operation of another mechanism or system

An individual who has imairment of both vision and hearing.

Relating to or involving the sense of touch
Revision History
1.1 [01/05/2019]
  • Extensive rewrite
  • Added introduction to Deafblindness
  • Included updated information about HaptiComm Braille

1 [01/08/2018]
  • Initial Release

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