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Georgia Tech iPhone App Could Help Blind Users Text

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the text-time dept.

Technology 60

MojoKid writes "Researchers at Georgia Tech 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 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. The free open-source app, called BrailleTouch, incorporates the Braille writing system used by the visually impaired. Early studies with visually impaired participants proficient in Braille typing have demonstrated that users can input up to 32 words per minute with 92 percent accuracy with the prototype app for the iPhone."

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Oh just great (5, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097531)

more people driving and texting~

Re:Oh just great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097551)

He talks about that in the video.

Re:Oh just great (2, Funny)

Zibodiz (2160038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097583)

I think using this for driving while texting would be counterintuitive for two reasons: First, it takes both hands. Swype only takes one. Second, the average person who knows braille probably doesn't do too much driving in the first place. If they did, I think texting would be the least of our worries.

Re:Oh just great (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100415)

Second, the average person who knows braille probably doesn't do too much driving in the first place.

I can think of several reasons why someone might know Braille and be sighted. And no, it doesn't mean they read Braille with their finger - you can read Braille with sight in most cases. The easiest reason would be someone transcribing something into Braille, and someone editing transcripted text (to ensure no mistakes/typos were made). Perhaps someone making their website accessible might also want to check out a Braille TTY to ensure output is correct.

Anyhow, the best way to text is Morse code. Only reqiures one finger, and the phone's vibrator can be used on replies. No need to look at the screen to type OR read.

Re:Oh just great (1)

Zibodiz (2160038) | about 2 years ago | (#39110783)

That, my friend, is brilliant. You finally gave me an excuse to learn Morse. And here I thought raw binary communication was was outdated.

Re:Oh just great (1)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097951)

even better, we can finally get pictures of blind people's junk.

If only... (1)

Zibodiz (2160038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097553)

This would be great for me, if only I knew braille. I would love to be able to text on my smartphone without looking -- that's the biggest regret I have for switching away from my old clamshell. I could text about 50wpm without looking on that thing. Swype is okay, but it's rather difficult without looking.

Re:If only... (5, Funny)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097561)

Why don't you learn braille? It's much easier for you to learn braille, than for blind people to learn how to read a newspaper!

It also isn't that hard (3, Informative)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097771)

Some alternate forms of communication are fairly hard since they are a whole new language. Sign language is like that. You have to learn symbols for words, and the grammar and vocabulary are not the same as English. So learning it is as difficult as learning a foreign language, more perhaps since it is visual not auditory.

However Braille is just character mapping. Things are spelled the same, they are just using a different character set. So all you have to do is learn how to understand the characters, or rather the feel of them, and you are good.

There are some abbreviations for more advanced Braille, but that comes later. The basics are just what dot patters equal what letters. Really not very hard to learn.

Re:It also isn't that hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103387)

Later? AFAIK it's pretty much a given that a blind person will learn 2nd grade braille.

Re:If only... (2)

Zibodiz (2160038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097569)

I should point out that my 'blind texting' isn't so much for when I'm driving, but more simply because I feel like I've lost a few IQ points having to stare at the keyboard. I haven't had to look at my laptop keyboard for the better part of a decade -- why on earth should I need to look at my phone to type there?

Re:If only... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097627)

... I would love to be able to text on my smartphone without looking ....

There are a few speech to text apps out there that will allow you to do that: ShoutOut [android.com] , Sonalight Text by Voice [android.com] and VLingo Virtual Assistant [android.com]

Re:If only... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39098673)

Pair with a text to voice app and you could almost have similar functionality to a conventional "plain ol` voice" telephone .. but without the annoying humanity :D

Re:If only... (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098397)

One of the reasons I have a smart phone with a hardware keyboard.

Hardware keyboard <3

Assistive devices (3, Interesting)

Crizp (216129) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097571)

I thought the iPhone supported most assistive devices, like braille keyboards, and "reading sticks" (those that can pop up a line of braille using small nubs, dunno what they're called in English) already?

Re:Assistive devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097957)

I think the difference is that the software in the article requires nothing more than a standard smartphone: no specialized hardware.

Re:Assistive devices (1)

Crizp (216129) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098609)

I think the difference is that the software in the article requires nothing more than a standard smartphone: no specialized hardware.

Yes, I realised my stupidity after posting. That's why one should not post before coffee. I feel my post's mod points are unfair, I want to give them back :/

Re:Assistive devices (1)

dissy (172727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097985)

I thought the iPhone supported most assistive devices, like braille keyboards, and "reading sticks"

Yes, those devices typically show as bluetooth keyboards/HID devices, so are supported on any BT enabled smart phone.

But that doesn't preclude yet another such device, and especially one that doesn't require additional hardware. I hear such hardware addons are rather expensive.

Re:Assistive devices (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098419)

Adaptive equipment is generally very expensive expensive compared to non adaptive equipment of similar materials/complexity.

However, I'm curious, where the hell can you find a smart phone that doesn't have bluetooth? Heck, at this point, I would expect it to be a major challenge to find any cell phone less than 3-4 years old without bluetooth.

Re:Assistive devices (1)

dissy (172727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39099551)

However, I'm curious, where the hell can you find a smart phone that doesn't have bluetooth? Heck, at this point, I would expect it to be a major challenge to find any cell phone less than 3-4 years old without bluetooth.

Funny you mention that. When I first typed out my post, it did have a similar comment in it: "(Do they even make non bluetooth smart phones anymore?)", but I ended up cutting it out.
I have not seen a smart phone without bluetooth support in a very very long time.

I know there are still basic "dumb" phones that do not include it for price reasons, and yet others that do have it but limited to audio only.
But you need to look at the "$20 or less" types to find such a phone.

Verizon used to have some low end phones with locked down bluetooth, where you had to pay an extra monthly fee for them to enable it for more than audio only use. This was to keep you from using BT to transfer pictures and ring tones to your phone on your own, and make you purchase such things from their store instead.
I haven't been with Verizon in years however, so I truly hope they stopped that practice in this day and age.

Re:Assistive devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39098941)

It does, and thus the title of this article is STUPID.

For the record my wife is blind (no light perception) and sends many texts a day on her iPhone. She has added a bluetooth keyboard for sending, but is quite capable without it.

And I really don't see her using additional software that is specifically for texting.

Re:Assistive devices (1)

Algae_94 (2017070) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102593)

I see no reason why this would have to be limited to texting. It could be used as a replacement to the phone's soft keyboard.

Re:Assistive devices (1)

Necron69 (35644) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103565)

Yep. I have a blind friend who can text and do email on his iPhone just fine. All it requires is a 'bumpy' screen overlay that matches the soft keyboard in portrait display mode. The necessary software settings are built-in out of the box with iOS. All of his messages and notifications are read aloud to him by the phone.

Necron69

My blind friend (4, Interesting)

TheRedDuke (1734262) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097575)

uses an older flip phone with an old-fashioned dialing pad. He texts by sound and feel, and faster than I can on my keyboard-less smartphone. Oh, and he paid $100 less for his phone and $20 less per month thanks to the fact that he doesn't NEED an iPhone or a data plan. While I feel like the research might have its heart in the right place, a much simpler solution appears to already exist.

Re:My blind friend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097625)

Am I to understand that this older, cheaper flip phone can actually read him texts that he receives? Or is it just send-only unless he finds a sighted person to read him his texts?

Re:My blind friend (2)

sabit666 (457634) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097647)

Am I to understand that this older, cheaper flip phone can actually read him texts that he receives? Or is it just send-only unless he finds a sighted person to read him his texts?

Plenty of them around, for example: http://www.gsmarena.com/motorola_a732-1235.php [gsmarena.com]

Re:My blind friend (5, Funny)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097657)

Good point.

Maybe somebody should write an app that lets the sender speak into the phone, and the receiver hear it immediately.

Re:My blind friend (2)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097699)

Good point.

Maybe somebody should write an app that lets the sender speak into the phone, and the receiver hear it immediately.

I'd jump in, but it's probably already patented.

Re:My blind friend (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097719)

Good point.

Maybe somebody should write an app that lets the sender speak into the phone, and the receiver hear it immediately.

I'd jump in, but it's probably already patented.

I believe you are thinking of US patent No. 174,465. Unless they extended the life of a patent to over 136 years, you should be safe.

Re:My blind friend (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097893)

Oh, right. I thought he meant Patent No. 666,834 "A Novel Method for Sinusoidal Telephony While Bungee Jumping".

Re:My blind friend (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097713)

for some older nokia smartphones(and I guess wm's actually too) there's (extra)sw to read onscreen texts(provided that they're rendered with the default api's - they kind of dropped the ball with extendability like that since then though..).

Re:My blind friend (2)

sgunhouse (1050564) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097883)

Thirty years ago, we had a friend who had programmed his COSMAC VIP (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COSMAC_VIP [wikipedia.org] ...) to accept Morse code for I/O. He was a blind ham radio operator, hence Morse was easy for him to use. Actually, never did find out how he got the program in there in the first place ... but in any case, there's a simple input method which only requires one hand (even only 1 finger) and which people have used at 55 wpm and higher.

Re:My blind friend (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098423)

That's perfect for blind people surfing for porn!

What, it keeps the other hand free, doesn't it?

Flip phone? (1)

srussia (884021) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098195)

My blind friend uses an older flip phone with an old-fashioned dialing pad. He texts by sound and feel, and faster than I can on my keyboard-less smartphone.

Most Filipinos can text blind.

Re:My blind friend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39099615)

Yeah because blind people shouldn't have access to smartphone features. Let them keep their dumb phones and let's not work to make new technology accessible as well.

Re:My blind friend (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39099679)

Serious questions here. The lifespan for cell phones are fairly short. Designs come and go. Eventually, he will have to have it replaced. My only question is how fast of a learner is he? How long would it take him to get used to an entirely new flip phone with the differences in tactile feedback and button placement?

Re:My blind friend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102059)

But it's not a SMARTPHONE with a TOUCH SCREEN. That's what this is. At some point your blind friend is going to want to want a smart phone? What does the do then, smart guy?

Maybe (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097655)

I have an iPhone because it was free (used) and the (cheapest possible) data plan is manageable for what it gets me. I hate, despise, and detest the onscreen keyboard (I know people who have returned iPhones for that reason alone, as would have I if I paid what this thing cost new.)

I'd be open to something like this except I don't text/email enough to be worth the learning curve. Maybe that would change if it wasn't such a pain to do.

I've enjoyed having a smartphone, but I definitely wouldn't get another iPhone; I might try an Android or WinPhone, or just go back to my $25 Samsung when this one dies.

I'm not blind... (4, Interesting)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097737)

...and I can't even come close to 32wpm on my smartphone (I tend to fat-finger my letters and spend more time back-spacing or looking for auto-completed words than typing). I've tried all the various gimmicks such as Swype and T9, but if this system is really netting users 30+wpm, I think it's time for me to learn Braille.

Just because it's an iPhone (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097881)

There are already several versions available on android.
http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2011/10/18/new-app-turns-a-tablet-into-a-braille-keyboard/

And specially this one:
http://www.ankitdaf.com/projects/BrailleType/

Georgia tech is basically ripping off this guy.

Re:Just because it's an iPhone (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39099397)

You do not seem to understand the concept of 'Georgia Tech,' 'ripping off,' or braille type on a mobile device.

That stuff you link to costs 300 dollars. GT researchers have built a prototype that can be used by anyone, not just the blind. Your links, by the way, use the same writing system, so if GT is "ripping someone off," its not a tablet app.

Texting for the blind (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097917)

Isn't that what Siri does anyway?

Georgia Tech (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39098489)

The school responsible for this work is the Georgia Institute of Technology, not Georgia Tech University.

Re:Georgia Tech (1)

Algae_94 (2017070) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102725)

Yes, Commonly referred to as Georgia Tech. Considering the summary did not capitalize the word "university" they may have said "Georgia Tech university" and meant: "Georgia Tech, which happens to be a university". Your attention to details of the English language make me question any association you may have to the school.

The article does not mention it at all, but I would wager this was actually done at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

morse code (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39098555)

As a ham radio operator, I still dont understand why we havnt been able to push morse code as a quick eyes free solution to texting.

It only requires one hand and if the interface was designed correctly, It would take input from the touch screen at any location on it. Just simple dots and dashes (taps and holds).

Re:morse code (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39098779)

Input latency might be a problem... dunno if a phone can handle the kind of rapid input required.

I can text with my eyes closed.. (1)

jmb1990 (1979110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098827)

by which I mean I can use the phone to make a phone call.

Where to start (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39099021)

First, it should be noted that the iPhone is very popular with blind people because they can send text as it without need of additional software.

Second, few sighted people will take the time to learn to write without looking at what they are writing.

Three, it would still be dangerous to text and drive.Follow the link and you see that two hands are used (as is typically with a braille writer).

Four, 35 words per minute is nothing if the blind person knows contractions. The work knowledge can be put in with two strokes. There are many contractions in braille.

Five, there are so many contractions in braille that few sighted people would have the patience to learn half of them.

So the real story is that someone is writing software that will be nice for blind people to have. That is a cool story. But this is not some uber life changing event story that will save the poor downtrodden blind dude from not being able to send a text.

Just couldn't let it get by (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39099053)

Sorry folks. I know this isn't really the point of the topic, but it's the Georgia Institute of Technology not the Georgia Tech University. Probably not a big deal to most folks, but it irks me for some reason.

Institute (3, Informative)

ckhorne (940312) | more than 2 years ago | (#39099501)

It's the Georgia *Institute* of Technology, not a university. /pendantic /alum

Re:Institute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102195)

The title of the school is the Georgia Institute of Technology. It does not include "university" in its name, but it is a University according the the Georgia Board of Regents.

btw I graduated from there also.

Re:Institute (1)

Rudolf (43885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102769)

It's the Georgia *Institute* of Technology, not a university. /pendantic /alum

http://www.gatech.edu/about/ [gatech.edu]
According to their webpage they are a university. Maybe you should take your complaint to the webmaster.

Re:Institute (1)

Algae_94 (2017070) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102825)

Naming aside, it is an actual university. The name just does not include that word. The common definition of a university is a school for higher learning that has a graduate division that awards masters and doctorate degrees as well as an undergraduate division.

Re:Institute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39166921)

So GIT not GUT then. That should go down better here.

A major step backwards (0)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 2 years ago | (#39099523)

Seriously? Seriously?!?! Why is this necessary? I really don't get texting. It's such a backward form of communication. Star Trek never used texting. Space: 1999 had video chatting. I personally refuse to text and don't have a texting plan on my phone. If I need to talk to someone, I'll make a regular phone call. It's more efficient for getting a straight answer and you'll have a much better idea of the emotional component to communication.

Re:A major step backwards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39214735)

They're great when it is inconvenient for one of the parties to talk, certainly better than voice mail for short messages/queries. And if texting is so backwards why did you type your comment instead of recording an audio/video comment?

Maybe you don't get texting because you've refused to try it.

International Morse (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39099531)

But what about those who lack the coordination or motor skills to type multi-chord keys? For them, Georgia Tech (or someone) needs to develop an app along roughly these lines:

Swipe to Type

Here’s an alternate text input technique for the iPhone and similar devices that might be faster and more accurate for many people. It uses a feature the iPhone already has, a multi-touch screen, rather than external hardware such as a collapsible Bluetooth keyboard. You not only don’t have to look at the screen, with a little practice you can enter text in the dark even while bouncing around in a car, bus or subway. And since the only requirements for text input are basic hand coordination and a sense of touch, it makes the iPhone much more usable for the visually impaired and those with limited hand-eye coordination.

What is it?

* It uses a well-established open source standard—International Morse Code. But instead of short and long key presses, dots are input by short swipes and dashes by long swipes.

* Speed of input doesn't matter. Unlike regular Morse, which assumes a pause in sending to be a break between letters, user input can be as slow or fast as the users wants without error. Letters are distinguished by alternating swiping right and left. A user-set delay inputs the last character, i.e. one not followed by a swipe in a different direction. Users can also set the ratio between long and short swipes.

* Swipe mode changes when the user rotates the screen.

* Because International Morse Code is already optimized for fast input in many languages, text can be entered very fast. The more often a letter is used, the shorter its Morse Code equivalent is. An e is a single short swipe and a T is a single long swipe. It couldn't be easier.

Additional Features

Morse input would also take advantage of a touch screen’s flexibility to add features that International Morse Code doesn’t have. Examples include:

* Lowercase letters are made by swiping left-to-right then right-to-left.

* Uppercase letters are made by swiping down-to-up and then up-to-down.

* Other gestures can be used. Common punctuation uses diagonal swipes, i.e. upper-left to lower-right for a space, lower-left to upper-right for a period or a period plus space. Diagonal swipes with two or three fingers could have other meanings.

* Circling CCW might delete the previous character for each circle. Circling CW might enter a Return. Alternately, a short shake of the iPhone deletes the previous letter, while a longer shake deletes the previous word.

* Because text input is always a swipe that doesn't need for anything to be displayed for it to work, the entire screen is free for other uses, either display or touching without swiping. It can be used to display the text being entered, to have buttons for commands, or to show a chart for those just learning Morse. This makes maximum use of scarce screen space.

* Certain easy-to-make touches could be used to make common commands easy to do. Touching the keyboard with another finger, perhaps the thumb in the lower-left corner for right-handed people, might signify something. For instance, it might bring up a scrolling list of long, user-set text strings (i.e. a phone number or address) from which the user could select. Inside applications, it could be used for something important. Inside an email program, for instance, it could send the just-entered email. Inside a writing program, it could be used to start a new paragraph.

* In learner mode, the screen would display the Morse alphabet and text input would be on a scrolling line. Letters or words could be spoken as typed to speed up learning and accuracy.

For those willing to learn Morse, which is far easier than most people think (especially for sending), it offers a fast, virtually error-free text interface for the iPhone, one that has tactile feedback built into the design. Most important of all, it’s a text input technique that doesn’t require users to constantly look at the screen. Since the target is the entire screen, it’s impossible to miss and the touch of the screen provides the tactile feedback lacking in the on-screen keyboard.

Feel free to pass the idea along to anyone who might want to implement it.

What's wrong with Siri? (1)

niw3 (1029008) | more than 2 years ago | (#39099537)

I thought dictation was the way to go. Of course, Apple must add support for more languages.
Oh sorry, this is slashdot, I posted a pro-Apple comment. Shoot me.

Blind people, already sending text messages. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39105267)

I even provided video evidence of myself doing so. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc10jc6w7OY

And I'm on a crummy old android phone. iphones are supposed to be considerably more accessible.

Yes, braille-style input may benefit some blind people who are more used to braille than they are used to using a traditional keyboard, but they are a minority. This stuff already works for most of us, and it has for years.

texxting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39106675)

Ever since apple Put Voiceover in iOS blind users have been texting and typing on the touch screen.
There is also a pretty neat product availible that uses a screen protector as an over overlay to put tactile braille markings on the iPhone keyboard. http://www.speeddots.com
Blind people can type almost as fast as a regular sighted person once they get used to using the touch screen.

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