Visually impaired to get a new feel for visual art thanks to Deakin University researchers

7 October 2010

People who are blind and visually impaired will have a unique way to ‘view’ art when they visit galleries in the future thanks to new technology being developed at Deakin University.

Alfred Deakin Professor Saeid Nahavandi, the director of Deakin’s Centre for Intelligent Systems Research (CISR), and Dr Ben Horan from the School of Engineering are expanding the capabilities of haptic technology – which adds a sense of touch and feel to virtual or remote objects – to provide people who are visually challenged with the ability to interact with 2D visual art works in a way not currently possible.

“Haptic technologies generate forces and vibrations that simulate a realistic sense of touch and feel to the human user,” Dr Horan explained.

“Simple haptic sensations are already being widely used in video gaming and the new generation of mobile phones. More advanced haptic interaction is achieved through arrangements of actuators and sensors much like traditional robotic arms.

“We are pushing the boundaries of the technology and working on a haptic system which can represent the visual information contained within 2D visual art. It will allow users to touch and feel 2D visual artworks. The implications of this capability are immense and wide reaching.”

This first of its kind technology will comprise the haptic colour palette and specially designed mobile haptic display being developed at Deakin University.

The haptic colour palette will facilitate the representation of the visual information which will then be displayed on the haptic device. Users will place their hands on the device, which will produce tactile and force-based interactions, providing a means of perceiving the visual information.

“Our preliminary discussions with vision impaired people have reinforced our original idea that there is a great need and urgent importance to discover new ways of thinking and problem solving,” Professor Nahavandi explained.

“This research will give our team the opportunity to solve some of the most fundamental research problems namely describing colour using haptics. The success of this project will not only benefit people with visual impairments but will also assist individuals who are experiencing colour blindness to appreciate colour. Other applications will include haptic communication in very low visibility environments.”

The project is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australian Research Council. The project team also includes postdoctoral fellow Dr Shady Mohammad, PhD student Husaini Adam and Synapse Artist-in-Residence, Brisbane-based artist and writer Professor Paul Brown.

“We are pleased to have Professor Brown involved in the project. As an artist he is in a different space and thinks differently to the rest of us so there is a great synergy between the team members,” Professor Nahavandi said.

The team envisages having the first fully-working platform by mid next year.

“We will then be at the stage where we can work with vision impairment organisations to evaluate the platform and refine the technology,” Dr Horan said.

News facts
  • Researchers working on technology to provide people who are visually impaired with a way to 'see' art
  • They are pushing the boundaries of haptic technology to represent the visual information in 2D art
  • Resulting technology will also be applicable to a range of low visibility environments

Media contact

Mandi O'Garretty
Deakin Media Relations
03 52272776; 0418 361 890

Ben Horan

Ben Horan is working with Deakin colleagues
to expand the capabilities of haptic technology
to enable people with visual impairments
to 'view' art.

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13th October 2010