This tactile display lets visually impaired users feel on-screen 3D shapes

Using a computer and modern software can be a chore to begin with for the visually impaired, but fundamentally visual tasks like 3D design are even harder. This Stanford team is working on a way to display 3D information, like in a CAD or modeling program, using a “2.5D” display made up of pins that be raised or lowered as sort of tactile pixels. Taxels!

The research project, a collaboration between graduate student Alexa Siu, Joshua Miele, and lab head Sean Follmer, is intended to explore avenues by which blind and visually impaired people can accomplish visual tasks without the aid of a sighted helper. It was presented this week at SIGACCESS.

tactile display2The device is essentially a 12×24 array of thin columns with rounded tops that can be individually told to rise anywhere from a fraction of an inch to several inches above the plane, taking the shape of 3D objects quick enough to amount to real time.

“It opens up the possibility of blind people being, not just consumers of the benefits of fabrication technology, but agents in it, creating our own tools from 3D modeling environments that we would want or need – and having some hope of doing it in a timely manner,” explained Miele, who is himself blind, in a Stanford news release.

Siu calls the device “2.5D,” since of course it can’t show the entire object floating in midair. But it’s an easy way for someone who can’t see the screen to understand the shape it’s displaying. The resolution is limited, sure, but that’s a shortcoming shared by all tactile displays — which it should be noted are extremely rare to begin with and often very expensive.

The field is moving forward, but too slowly for some, like this crew and the parents behind the BecDot, an inexpensive Braille display for kids. And other tactile displays are being pursued as possibilities for interactions in virtual environments.

Getting an intuitive understanding of a 3D object, whether one is designing or just viewing it, usually means rotating and shifting it — something that’s difficult to express in non-visual ways. But a real-time tactile display like this one can change the shape it’s showing quickly and smoothly, allowing more complex shapes like moving cross-sections to be expressed as well.


Joshua Miele demonstrates the device.

The device is far from becoming a commercial project, though as you can see in the images (and the video below), it’s very much a working prototype and a fairly polished one at that. The team plans on reducing the size of the pins, which would of course increase the resolution of the display. Interestingly another grad student in the same lab is working on that very thing, albeit at rather an earlier stage.

The Shape Lab at Stanford is working on a number of projects along these lines — you can keep up with their work at the lab’s website.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

The Google Assistant now lets you annoy your family members with assignable reminders

Do you sometimes have to nag your significant other to take out the trash on Monday night? Now, you can do so in a more passive-aggressive way by sending them a reminder through the Google Assistant instead of in person.

“Hey Google, remind Alex to take out the trash at 8pm,” is all it takes. Your family members (or roommates that you’ve added to your Google family group) will then get a notification on their phones and/or Assistant-powered Smart Displays.

“Assignable reminders on the Google Assistant help families and housemates better collaborate and stay organized while at home or on the go,” explains Google. “This means you can now create reminders for your partner or roommate to do things like pick up the groceries, pay a recurring bill, walk the dog — or send them a note of encouragement when they need it the most (‘Hey Google, remind Mary that she will do great on tomorrow’s exam.’)”

I’m pretty sure Mary would prefer a bit of human contact with that encouragement, but sometimes the Google Assistant is all you have.AR HubTechnically, for all of this to work, you need to have the person you are sending the reminder to in your contacts list and in your Google Family group. You also need to set up Voice Match for them for this to work on a smart display or speaker. Parents can set up accounts for children under 13 through Family Link.

This new feature will become available in English on phones, speakers and Smart Displays in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Like with all Google reminders, you can set times and locations for your messages to pop up.

Mercifully, you can block people from sending you reminders, too, thanks to a new toggle in the Assistant Settings menu.AR Mobile

Gadgets – TechCrunch