Wearable Tech World Feature Article
June 27, 2013

Glove Prototype Provides Mobile Communications Capabilities for the Blind-Deaf

Wearable technology is getting ready to take the world by storm. It’s already hot property on the fitness front, with a variety of wearable devices that can track your vital signs, measure your activity for the day and remind you when it’s time to eat, sleep, move or work out. For those with chronic diseases, wearable technology can deliver medicine (such as insulin for diabetics), communicate heart rate and pulse to healthcare professionals (in a patient recovering from a heart attack, for example) or remind patients to take medication.

But wearable technology is about more than fitness and medical monitoring. It could potentially help those coping with disabilities to communicate with the world around them. A German researcher and doctoral candidate at the Design Research Lab at Berlin's University of the Arts , Tom Bieling, has developed a prototype computerized glove that translates text into impulses to help people who are both deaf and blind to communicate. Bieling’s glove, which is his fourth prototype in two years according to a recent profile in The Atlantic, is made of stretchy, black Gore-Tex, covered with both wires and sensors. The glove is paired with a Bluetooth transmitter, which allows it to then send or receive messages. 

Image courtesy of Michael Scaturro / The Atlantic

The glove uses the Lorm alphabet, which was invented in 1881 by blind and deaf Austrian scientist Hieronymus Lorm. The alphabet is interpreted by the glove’s wearer according to “touches” (more specifically, the kind of haptic feedback that most smartphones engage in when they vibrate an incoming text message, for example) made by the glove’s moving parts on the back of the hand. (The Lorm alphabet normally involves the palm side of the hand.)

In testing done so far, the glove has proved to be a success. The Atlantic reports that the deaf-blind people in the study reported that they could understand incoming Lorm vibrations on the tops of their hands just as well as they could when someone tapped out letters in their palms.

To send a message, the blind-deaf person taps letters onto the glove's palm side, and these touches are converted into digital text and sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone app to send the text or e-mail.  

“Up to now, if a deaf blind person wanted to talk to you, you'd have to know the Lorm Alphabet -- and not so many people do," Bieling said. "Another barrier is that this system -- and other deaf-blind languages -- doesn't work over distance. If you're in another room, in another city, and you're deaf-blind, you can't easily talk with Lorm."

Bieling says he hopes to make future gloves out of lighter and thinner material, with smaller sensors and wires. Eventually, he says, they may become desirable for people without hearing or sight disabilities but who simply want to be able to send and receive messages literally in the palm of their hand.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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