Sometimes, technology takes the lead in a story, and consumerism falls to nothing. We love stories like that, where technology does more than just reap benefits for a profitable company, but actually goes a long way in improving lives. Georgia Tech has been working up a technological solution to a commonly felt problem, and it's one that we're sure the creators couldn't be more proud of. Researchers at the university have built a prototype app for touch-screen mobile devices that is vying to be a complete solution for texting without the need to look at a mobile gadget's screen. In theory, it should greatly help the blind interact with mobile phones, but it could help just about anyone looking for a more efficient way to interact.
"Research has shown that chorded, or gesture-based, texting is a viable solution for eyes-free written communication in the future, making obsolete the need for users to look at their devices while inputting text on them," said Mario Romero, Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Interactive Computing (IC) and the project's principal investigator.
The free open-source app, called BrailleTouch, incorporates the Braille writing system used by the visually impaired. It has been conceived as a texting tool for any of the millions of smartphone phone users worldwide.
Early studies with visually impaired participants proficient in Braille typing have demonstrated that users can input at least six times the number of words per minute when compared to other research prototypes for eyes-free texting on a touch screen. Users reach up to 32 words per minute with 92 percent accuracy with the prototype app for the iPhone.
"We are currently designing a study to formally evaluate BrailleTouch through both quantitative and qualitative methods," said Caleb Southern, an IC graduate student. "We will measure the typing speed and accuracy of visually impaired users and capture the feedback from study participants in areas such as comfort, ease of use and perceived value."
For sighted users, the research team is exploring how BrailleTouch could be a universal eyes-free mobile texting app that replaces soft QWERTY keyboards and other texting technologies.
"BrailleTouch is an out-of-the-box solution that will work with smartphones and tablets and allow users to start learning the Braille alphabet in a few minutes," said Romero. "It also reduces the need for expensive proprietary Braille keyboard devices, which typically cost thousands of dollars."
The researchers have designed BrailleTouch to address the limitations of soft keyboards, which do not provide tactile feedback, as well as physical keyboards, which often use small and numerous fixed buttons. BrailleTouch is the only iPhone app in existence that uses a six-finger chording process that replicates the traditional Braille keyboard.
The app uses a gesture-based solution by turning the iPhone's touchscreen into a soft-touch keyboard programmed for Braille and requiring only six keys, making it a practical solution for the limited screen real estate on smartphones. The research group has developed iPhone and iPad versions of BrailleTouch and is currently working on Android versions. Eager to see more? Have a look at the video.