A Prototype Audio-Tactile Map System with an Advanced Auditory Display

A Prototype Audio-Tactile Map System with an Advanced Auditory Display

Liam O'Sullivan (School of Engineering, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland), Lorenzo Picinali (Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College, London, UK), Andrea Gerino (Faculty of Technology, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK) and Douglas Cawthorne (Digital Building Heritage Grp, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2015100104


Tactile surfaces can display information in a variety of applications for all users, but can be of particular benefit to blind and visually impaired individuals. One example is the use of paper-based tactile maps as navigational aids for interior and exterior spaces; visually impaired individuals may use these to practice and learn a route prior to journeying. The addition of an interactive auditory display can enhance such interfaces by providing additional information. This article presents a prototype system which tracks the actions of a user's hands over a tactile surface and responds with sonic feedback. The initial application is an Audio-Tactile Map (ATM); the auditory display provides verbalised information as well as environmental sounds useful for navigation. Two versions of the interface are presented; a desktop version intended as a large-format information point and a mobile version which uses a tablet computer overlain with tactile paper. Details of these implementations are provided, including observations drawn from the participation of a partially-sighted individual in the design process. A usability test with five visually impaired subjects also gives a favourable assessment of the mobile version.
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It is common for blind people to explore a new location (such as a work environment) when there is little other traffic present, in an effort to develop a mental map of the location; the spatial model developed from gathering this experiential knowledge is a cognitive map (Kuipers, 1978). From the outset, it was the intention of the ATM project to address this type of scenario by providing a virtual reality tool which can help a visually impaired individual to form a cognitive map of a location remotely, before visiting the physical site (Picinali et al., 2014a). Assistive navigational technology for blind and visually impaired individuals takes a number of approaches, but may be broadly classified into in-navigation or pre-navigation tools, the latter of these being of primary concern here. The reader is directed to literature reviews included in documentation of the background experimental work for the present project (Picinali et al., 2014a) and early-stage documentation of the ATM project (O’Sullivan et al., 2014a, O’Sullivan et al., 2014b).

Mobile devices equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology allow visually impaired travellers to receive direction while in transit via an auditory and/or a tactile display. In the case of the former, Rowell & Ungar (2003) found that synthesised verbal delivery can be distracting at times, but a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of in-navigation systems in outdoor environments was positive (Loomis, 2001). The Blind Maps system is a concept providing an assisting-device with real-time tactile feedback only, i.e. no audio (Spitz et al., 2012). It was designed as a portable clip-on peripheral for the Apple iPhone for use with on-line map applications. The device renders symbols on an actuated pin display to direct the user during a journey, allowing aural focus to be kept on surroundings. An example of a navigational tool that is currently active is Open Street Map for the Blind (OSMB), as described in Rifat et al. (2011) and with information available online1. This is an open-source, user-maintained map system which is audio-based and delivered via mobile phones equipped with screen readers. OSMB is a well-considered list of established world features and associated audio tags that aid mapping and system development by the contributors. More generally, design guidelines for assistive devices for blind pedestrians that aim to help spatial cognition have been suggested by Gallay et al. (2013).

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