[AI] Robo-pen for blind

vishnu ramchandani vishnuhappy at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 8 05:59:36 EDT 2008

Robo-pen for blind

Researchers have built a robotic pen to guide the
hands of the blind; test subjects start writing
recognisable letters after short practice session

IDG News Service

The Phantom Omni
British researchers have developed a robotic pen that
they say may enable blind people to write clearly and

All that one will have to do to use McSig – as the
“force-feedback” pen has been named – is to gently
guide one’s hand. 

Stephen Brewster, an expert at the University of
Glasgow, says the system uses an off-the-shelf haptic
device by US-based SensAble Technologies, called
the Phantom Omni – a stylus mounted at the end of a
motorised arm, which is capable of moving and
resisting movement in three dimensions. 

Under the guidance of a teacher, Brewster and his
colleagues tested the system on eight visually
impaired children: three of whom were partially
and five were completely blind. 

The McSig system in use. The teacher (background)
draws on a Tablet PC to create a shape and the student
(foreground) can feel, explore and move around
the shape using the Phantom Omni haptic interface
The teacher first wrote a letter on a touch-sensitive
computer screen using a normal pen. 

The Phantom re-enacted the motion required to write
the letter as the pupil held the stylus and, thus,
gave them a sense of how to move a pen to produce
a letter. 

Besides haptic feedback, the system also provides
audio cues using stereo sound to guide students as to
how they should move the pen. 

The system pans the sound from left to right as the
pen moves horizontally, and increases and decreases
the pitch to signify forward and backward movements.

After a practice of about 20 minutes on the haptic
device, the students tried writing with a regular pen
on a plastic film known as Dutch drawing paper,
which creates an imprint that can be felt after

The students – all of whom were unable to write before
the training – started to write recognisable letters
after the practice session. 

The researchers now plan to conduct longer-term trials
with the new device. 

“Even though we don’t write cheques any more, it is
surprising how often you are asked to sign and date a
form,” says Sile O’Modhrain, a visually impaired
haptics expert at Queen’s University Belfast in
Ireland, who was not involved in the study. 

“Besides, there is something demeaning about having to
ask someone to sign something on your behalf and
thereby become a proxy for you,” she adds. 

Talking about the significance of the new device,
Brewster says: “The nice thing about our tool is the
teacher can create stencils so the kids can practice
any time.” 

While the Phantom device is costly, the researchers
believe that similar software may lead to cheaper
models costing about $100 (Rs 4,000 approx). 

The results of the study were presented at the 26th
Computer and Human Interaction conference in Florence, Italy.

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