As beautiful and elegant glass fronts are, as modern multi-touch, colored displays and gesture controls as they are, for a group of people the development towards more touch and graphics is simply a catastrophic situation: people with visual impairments can hardly use this brave new world.
A: How can haptics be applied to smooth glass surfaces?
The cover glass, such as chemically tempered aluminum silicate glass, also known under the brand name “Gorilla Glass”, has distinctly tactile elements ground into it, such as finger guides, sliders, rotating wheels, etc. This is the first step towards “blind” operation: Even without looking, the fingers know where they are.
B: Is there any possibility for haptic feedback?
Yes. The “good old keyboard” can be simulated quite well. For this purpose, the glass panel is set into specific vibrations, e.g. via piezo actuators. The challenge here is not the electronics, but the mechanics. After all, the glass panel is not infinitely large and is usually firmly clamped at its ends by frames or adhesives.
C: What about reading?
Blind people can usually read Braille. This consists of six to eight small pins per character, which are either flat or raised. This allows a maximum of 256 characters to be displayed, similar to binary logic. If each pin is replaced with a small piezo actuator and the corresponding electronics are placed behind it, Braille can be emulated electronically. Basically, these piezo pins require perforations in the cover glass, but thanks to precision machining, these can be tolerated very closely, so that hardly any dust or moisture can penetrate. A special sealing foil also protects the inside of the device.
D: Are there already products that use these technologies?
The French technology start-up Insidevision from Grigny, in the south of Paris, has made it its business to open up the world of the Internet to blind people. With insideONE, the French have developed a tablet that enables visually impaired people to both write and read. The latter via a 32-digit Braille display, technically an array of 32×8 = 256 piezo actuators.
Do you have questions regarding this matter?
Your contact person: Herr Günther Irlbacher
Company: Irlbacher Firmengruppe