Tactile Text Messages

Researchers at Bonn University have come up with a way of feeling text messages using a matrix of pins. Rather like the Braille readers used by blind and partially-sighted PC users, pins are raised and lowered, in patterns – but the system isn’t Braille for mobile phones yet.

Users program which patterns the phone makes to which keywords – examples given are a wave towards the user to indicate “I” and you a wave away from the user to indicate “you”.

It’s currently cumbersome, and of limited use (why not just look at your phone?), but the team feel it will have uses in art-installations or other more traditional feedback systems – such as steering wheels. There’s also no reason why the system can’t be refined so that blind users can read text messages.

If the array can be made small enough to work with mobile phones of 3g dimensions, this feedback system might be a great idea for giving access to PDAs for the blind.

Prof Eckmiller of Bonn University told the BBC: “Our major intention with this invention and development is to open up the sense of touch as a new channel for human communication, the sense of touch will in the future be added as the third communication channel to human communication technologies.”

Department of Neuroinformatics at Bonn

Published by

Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?