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Haptic-Feedback Clothing Designed to Guide Persons With Disabilities

Garment that communicates via vibrations
Imagine not seeing anything nor hearing anything. Such communication obstacles affect all aspects of life. Many people with deafblindness communicate via tactile signing and also haptic signals (touch and movement) on the body. Now, researchers are working to digitise and integrate this into a garment.

Haptic signing means that a person interprets the environment for the person with deafblindness by touching their back and other parts of the body. Halfway through the EU project “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.

It is an EU project led by the University of Borås.

The name indicates that an entire toolbox of instruments to improve communication with people who are deafblind is being developed in the project.

The participants in the project 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 finally 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. The publisher 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 be a tool for communication; it’s something new. And when it comes to the technology, we have come a long way in the project,” says Nils-Krister Persson, Associate Professor in Smart Textiles at the University of Borås.

Now the garment is to be tested

The University of Borås’s role includes responsibility for the textile innovations and semantic interpretations of the surroundings; researchers in Greece are working on an interface that can recognise objects and faces in the surroundings. And in Leeds, England, scientists are also working with sensor technology to detect obstacles in the environment and to translate this into vibrations and other haptic signs.

“We are now working on integrating all these parts so that the camera and the computer recognise what is going on in the room, send information to a knowledge database, which quickly translates it into haptic signals, which the wearer feels on his back through the so-called actuators in the garment,” he explains.

Soon, the latest generation of the prototypes will be produced in a larger number so that the functions can begin to be tested scientifically.

“But of course we still have many challenges remaining about about costs, changes in behaviour, and purely practical issues. But we are very positive about our possibilities for success, says Nils-Krister Persson.

“Research efforts in the project are moving strongly forward on all fronts. We are in phase schedulewise and feel very positively that we will have achieved our purpose when the project is over,” says Nasrine Olson, Senior Lecturer in Library and Information Science as well as Project Coordinator.

On 22 August, the project will hold a symposium in Borås that is open to everyone to attend. The project’s advances will be presented there.

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