Monday, March 29, 2010

A Full Page Braille Display?

I found this article extremely exciting and thought I'd share. Hope you enjoy. For more information please go here.

Imagine if your computer only allowed you to see one line at a time, no matter what you were doing—reading e-mail, looking at a Web site, doing research. That's the challenge facing blind computer users today. But new research from North Carolina State University is moving us closer to the development of a display system that would allow the blind to take full advantage of the Web and other computer applications.

"Right now, electronic Braille displays typically only show one line of text at a time. And they're very expensive," says Dr. Neil Di Spigna, a research assistant professor at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. In order to develop a more functional, and affordable, tool that would allow the blind to interface with their computers, Di Spigna and his colleagues are working to develop a full-page, refreshable Braille display. Braille uses a series of raised dots to represent letters and numbers, allowing blind people to read.

Such a display would also translate images into tactile displays, effectively mapping pixels in an image and allowing the full-page Braille display to represent the images as raised dots.

The researchers have developed a concept called a "hydraulic and latching mechanism," which would allow the development of such a display system. The mechanism would be made of an electroactive polymer that is very resilient and inexpensive, when compared to current Braille display technologies. "This material will allow us to raise dots to the correct height, so they can be read," says Dr. Peichun Yang, a postdoctoral research associate at NC State and co-author of the paper. "Once the dots are raised, a latching mechanism would support the weight being applied by a person's fingers as the dots are read. The material also responds quickly, allowing a reader to scroll through a document or Web site quickly."

Earlier this month, the researchers presented their findings on the hydraulic component of the mechanism, showing that it is a viable technology. The next step is to demonstrate a proof-of-concept model of the latching mechanism. "We hope to have a fully functioning prototype of the mechanism within a year," Di Spigna says, "and that could serve as the functional building block of a full-screen refreshable display."

"Reading Braille is essential to allowing blind people to find employment," says Yang, who is blind. "We're optimistic that this technology will give the blind additional opportunities in this area."

"The last 20 years of computer technology have been relatively inaccessible—and today's common mobile computing devices, from smart-phones to digital navigators and iPads, have been completely nonexistent—to blind people, because the display technology for the blind has not kept pace," says David Winick, a researcher at NC State and co-author of the paper. "We hope to enable the development of applications that will give the blind more complete access to the internet and other computer resources, such as e-books."

The research, "The integration of novel EAP-based Braille cells for use in a refreshable tactile display," was presented March 8 at the 12th International Conference on Electroactive Polymer Actuators And Devices in San Diego. The work was funded by the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. The work was co-authored by Di Spigna, Yang, Winick, Parthasarathi Chakraborti, an NC State graduate student, Dr. Tushar Ghosh, a professor of textile engineering chemistry and science, and Dr. Paul Franzon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The National Federation of the Blind

Braille For Everyone

Friday, March 26, 2010

Enslaved to Google

I just made an interesting and rather disturbing discovery. I use a *TON* of Google's products. Now when I write that perhaps you're thinking my e mail and blog, and you would be right, but then there's all the additional apps. The calendar, docs (if I figure out how they work), Google Voice, Wave, and all the rest. Perhaps it's something they put in their programming- an addictive substance?

Regardless I am quite hooked, and I must admit that Google's recent stance in China only helps matters. Now if they could only get their phone to be useful in business... The National Federation of the Blind

Braille For Everyone

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A moment on the soap box

Although I find politics castly interesting and enjoy a good debate I have tried to keep my political views confined to posting articles on Twitter. I figure those who wish a greater idea of where I'm coming from on a given issue can easily read the articles I post. Those who disagree can obviously skip them, but regardless despite frequent tweets on the topic of politics I think they are not overwhelming (would my followers please correct this impression if it is mistaken?)

With the passage of health care however I feel I need to make two points. The first is that I believe it will result in economic disaster (see Cafe Hayek for good thoughts on this) and that it will not provide greater health care to Americans but rather increase prices. Additionally, the idea that the government can tell us to buy a private product of any type is unconstitutional. If they can tell us buy health insurance they can tell us to buy spinach, or computers, or government bonds- regardless of whether we want them or not. A dangerous road IMO.

Second I am extremely vexed with my progressive friends ravidly praising this and claiming that those who disagree are idiots or less charitable terms. The debate is over and all that needs to be said has been said (so says George R.R. Martin). I believe however that the debate has just begun, and to claim that those who are argueing for alternitives are simply cruel, greedy, and/or idiotic simply shows the weakness of the promoters of health care. If health care is so great why then all the parlamentary mumbo jumbo? If this was so greatly supported by millions of Americans then why it is only supported by 30% is the polls? Why should we take on blind faith that we will like the bill once we see what it contains?

George R.R. Martin is a great author- I am looking forward to his next Song of Ice and Fire novel, and he has a right to his opinion. I am however dismayed at his taking up the cry of no more debate and basically calling those who watch Fox News brain washed. The fact he mentioned ABC and CNN as unslanted sources was quite amusing. I wish my progressive friends would also drop a bit of their hubrous and agree that good patriotic Americans can disagree with them. Then again considering the illogical nature of most hard core progressives I have met I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that ad hominim attacks instead of logic is the name of the game. One cannot create facts, so it amazes me that many progressives actually believe that Congress, which has never done so in the past, would actually follow through on the cuts it preposes in this bill. Similarly the facts that individuals would be mandated to buy a product from the government doesn't seem to bother them. Must be nice to be able to spend other people's money with such ease. Just because one is willing to pay more for something doesn't mean he should force his neighbor to do so. I like recycling and renewable energy, and am happy to pay a bit more to use these services- but I believe it immoral to force everyone to do so, just because I think it worthwhile. I grow tired of my progressive friends and their arrogance, but when the facts of health care roll in I suppose we will be able to fix matters- hopefully

I am now stepping down from my soap box, and hope that great news in the areas of adaptive technology and life will outweigh the need for another post like this.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My visit to the Apple store- A slice of Paradise

Last night as we were waiting for what would turn out to be an excellent meal at Red Lobster (I got the Lobster Lover's Feast), I had the chance to pop into an Apple store. The overall experience was something I will not soon forget. The customer service was fantastic, and the 25 minutes I spent useing VoiceOver were both edifying and enjoyable. A slice of paradise seems indeed the best way to describe the feeling I had knowing that I could walk up to any computer in that store and use it without loading anything or paying an additional charge in order to make it accessible. I used an iMac, and the incorperation of the monitor into the tower simply reiterated to me the innovation that is standard for Apple products. Leaving the store without a Mac was quite difficult (the fact the store was closing combined with my wife's strong no were helpful however) and I left without one. When it comes time to updrade however I think a Mac has a better then 75% chance of becoming my primary computer. The iPhone is a great gateway drug in this regard, and I think Apple must put some addictive drug on all its products. *smile*

In regards to this discussion I found this video most interesting. On all Apple products the label indicates that although the product was assembled in China it was made in the US. This is an important point, as what really matters with most products is not where they are put together but where the idea and means of putting them together comes from.

I follow with the iced coffee...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reading Material

I just realized that I have read some excellent fantasy novels of late, and have made no comment on them (my reading list on Linked In being a pain to update). I would be remiss if I didn't note these gems which have enriched my reading life.

Terry Goodkind did an absolutely spectacular job with his book the Law of Nines. I must admit that I had tought something else might be in the works for this novel, but it was very good and most riviting.

Terry Brooks' Shanara series has entertained me for years, but I have also enjoyed his Landover series. I am now reading A Princess of Landover and am enjoying it immensely.

Piers Anthony's Xanth series is as humorous and entertaining as ever, now reading Air Apparent.

George R.R. Martin has had his hooks in me since I first cracked the cover of A Game of Thrones, and this continues as I delve into his short stories and collected fiction. I longingly await A Dance With Dragons to come out, but in the interum I am enjoying Dream Songs Vol. 1 and 2, as well as Legends 2.

Although my loudest praise will always be reserved for J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George R.R. Martin, these authors above come in as close contenders.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Serotek Ultimatum

For those unaware this post from the Serotek Blog is really fantastic, calling on all blind people to throw off the AT chains of the blind ghetto. Can't wait until Braille for Everyone comes to pass. The comments afterward are also workth reading IMO.