ATU359 – Braille Tech with Madhura Mhatre, IUPUI graduate student

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Braille Tech with Madhura Mhatre, IUPUI graduate student| mmhatre@iu.edu
Gallaudet eyes more progress for deaf community 30 years after ‘Deaf President Now’ protest https://usat.ly/2q9yMKf

This VR exhibit enables the blind to ‘see’ art with haptic gloves http://bit.ly/2Em8tG2
App: Reminders | www.BridgingApps.org

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MADHURA MHATRE:  Hi everyone, my this Madhura Mhatre, and I’m a graduate student at IUPUI, and am working on the project Braille Tech, and this is Your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 359 of Assistive Technology Update.  It’s scheduled to be released on April 13, 2018.

Today I’m going to spend some time with Madhura Mhatre who is an IUPUI graduate student here in Indianapolis who has come up with a concept for a glove that does braille.  It’s called Braille Tech, and we are going to spend some time with the student talking about with this concept might turn into as a commercial project. We have a story about some artwork that is virtual artwork that is experienced by people who are blind or visually impaired with haptic gloves.  Also an app from BridgingApps about reminders.

We hope you’ll check out our website at EasterSealsTech.com.  Sent us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject.  Or call our listener line.  We always love to hear your feedback and questions.  The number is 317-721-7124.

Like this show but don’t always have time for it? Check out accessibility minute with Laura Medcalf.  One minute long, all kinds of great accessibility information.  Find it where you get your podcast or AccessibilityMinute.com.

We’ve had a number of historical civil rights moments recently.  One of them you may or may not remember was in 1988 on March 6 when Deaf President Now happened.  It was a very historic moment in the civil rights life of people who are deaf when the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees appointed a hearing president among all other candidates who were deaf.  It created quite an outrage an uproar, and Gallaudet students did a very traditional civil rights march and walk out and demanded that the present of Gallaudet University be deaf.  The message was heard, a deaf president was installed, and there has been a deaf president ever since.  It was a major turned on in the life of people who are deaf.  I would recommend you check out our show notes.  I’m going to pop a link in the USA Today story that gives a nice historical perspective and the reason that DPN, or Deaf President Now was such a big deal then and what the impact has been since then. Check our show notes.

So this is cool.  There is a startup in Spain called Neuro Digital Technologies who are making Museum touchable exhibits, but they are virtual.  The ideas people who are blind or visually impaired put on these haptic gloves, and then they feel a famous piece of art.  For example, they have the head of Nefertiti, the Venus de Milo, and they have David by Michelangelo.  But when people put on these gloves, they are touching air but are stealing the sculptures, which is an amazing experience for people who are blind or visually impaired and have had these things described to them, these pieces of art described to them, but now they can “touch” them with these virtual haptic gloves.  Listen to some of these people who are trying it for the first time.

SPEAKER ONE :  I didn’t expect, for example about David, yeah, I knew this guy would have a big head, but that it’s this big.

SPEAKER TWO:  I recognized the address of the Venus of Milo. This is the dress! They said yes, all right! It was the greatest.

SPEAKER ONE:  The entire experience — and this is something that adds this element which was missing, that you can see it and know the beauty of the art and touch it.

WADE WINGLER:  So the exhibit is called Touching Masterpieces.  It’s in the national Gallery of Prague.  From one of the collaborating organizations Leontinka, Barbara Harkova says, “Blind children are usually taught in school with really aids and tactile pictures that far from accurately reflect reality.  This new technology is an incredible breakthrough, allowing students to touch what was absolutely unattainable before.”

From what I understand, the process isn’t perfect.  The details aren’t there, but it is getting better and refined all the time.  If you want to watch a really great video and read about this virtual reality exhibit that enables people who are blind or visually impaired to “see” art with haptic gloves, check our show notes.  I’ll pop a link in there.

Each week, one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps, so here’s an app worth mentioning.

AMY BARRY:  This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning.  This week’s featured app is called Reminders.  Reminders is a free app developed by Apple that is very intuitive.  The app allows you to make lists and set reminders and then share these items with others.  You can also set location-based reminders with this app.  Use reminders for projects, groceries, and anything else that you want to keep track of.  You can set when and where you want to be reminded.  You can also remind yourself to get back to something you are doing in another app.  With iCloud, you can keep reminders up-to-date across all of your devices.  Adding new reminders, checking them off, and choosing one you want to be reminded is simple.  You can even use Siri to remind you.  Some examples of how to use Siri are “Hey, Siri, remind me when I get home to check the mail.” “Hey, Siri, remind me to email Kristin when I get to work.” “Hey, Siri, remind me when I leave here to stop by the grocery store.”

Another great feature of the reminders app is having the ability to organize reminders.  Want to separate your reminders into categories like work, personal, or school? Create a reminders list to keep things organized.  Reminders is compatible with voiceover and is available for free at the iTunes store.  The app is compatible with all iOS devices.  For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.

WADE WINGLER:  One of the things I get to do which is a whole lot of fun for me is occasionally I get to guest lecture to students about assistive technology and accessibility.  You guys know, stuff that I get fired up about and talk about here on the air. IUPUI is Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis.  They have a pretty impressive informatics program.  Last year, I was asked to come out and speak to a group of students.  I did, and it went okay.  Afterward, a charming woman came up and said, I am interested in some of the things that you are interested in.  She started to tell me a story about some braille technology that she was focusing on.  That graduate student is Madhura Mhatre who is with us on the air today.  She is going to tell us a little bit about Braille Tech and the work that she has done.  But I’m going to spoil it a little bit and say she has recently won a pretty impressive award.  We are going to brag on her little bit we could do that part of the interview.

Enough of me. Madhura, welcome to the show.

MADHURA MHATRE:  Hey, hi.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m so glad that you are here today.  Thank you for taking time out of your schoolwork.  I know you are busily working on finishing up a degree.  Why don’t we start with that? Tell me a little bit about we are doing with school, the degree you’re getting, and why you’re doing it.

MADHURA MHATRE:  I am a computer engineer and a computer undergrad from the University of Mumbai.  I am here at IUPUI as a graduate student studying human computer interaction at the school of informatics and computing.

WADE WINGLER:  Tell us a little bit about the program and that the greed and what you hope to do with it after school.

MADHURA MHATRE:  After I graduate from the program, I’m looking forward to have a career as a UX designer or researcher for a product designer.  The program helps us to learn about how to design applications and websites or products which are more accessible to people who are going to use it.  It’s not like we develop it, but we develop it for people after knowing what they actually want from the technology.

WADE WINGLER:  So you make it better?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.

WADE WINGLER:  For folks who aren’t familiar, UX means User Experience, right?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.

WADE WINGLER:  Not specifically people with disabilities, although you might include that.  We are talking about just anybody using a system and what their experience is like.  That’s what you are designing and improving?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent.  How did somebody who is a grad student in the user design become interested in braille technology? Was that part of the standard curriculum, or was this something that you found yourself interested on your own?

MADHURA MHATRE:  While I was doing the undergraduate studies in computer engineering, I decided to take up research.  I experienced a scenario where I was not able to help and impaired person.  I was not able to communicate with the impaired person because he wanted to ask me something, but I was not able to communicate.  That’s how I thought that I should do something as a computer engineer to help the impaired community to connect better with the world so that they can access the knowledge or information that we perceive.

I started with this project Braille Tech, and while doing this project, I realized that I need to study user experience.  I applied for the program at IUPUI, and that’s what I’m here about, studying the user experience.

WADE WINGLER:  So you don’t have a ton of personal experience or motivation related to blindness or disability, but you did say problem that needed to be solved or needs that you did to be filled, and you probably thought it was cool or interesting?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yeah.

WADE WINGLER:  Awesome.  Tell me about Braille Tech.  When you sit with a friend and they say what are you working on, tell me how you tell people what you are working on.

MADHURA MHATRE:  People who have vision as well as hearing loss are deprived of all resources, technology, and especially knowledge due to their physical disability.  They are solely dependent on their tactile senses for their daily needs and for the purpose of communication.  The scope of education for such physically challenged people is limited to learning from tactile signing which, print on Palm, tactile finger spelling, braille embossed books, braille displays, etc. All of the books and devices used by the deaf/blind community are very expensive for anyone to afford; therefore, there is an economic alternative solution for the impaired community to help to learn and grow.  Braille Tech provides an inexpensive and affordable education source to them by replacing the costly braille printed books with e-Braille books. By using a smart phone along with an easy to use smart glove, what it actually does is conducts the e-books and documents into an understandable format for the deaf blind people.  So if you think of a sentence in English, it actually converts the English sentence into braille, but then it’s all on the screen.  They wouldn’t be able to feel anything on the screen.  The smart glove converts the digital braille by the mechanical process of tactile feedback being punched into his or her fingertip.  It actually replicates the field of reading paper braille from a braille book.

After designing the glove, the first glove we design was around $15.  I’m currently redesigning the glove to lower the cost so that everyone can afford a globally.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m sitting here in my studio with my jaw dropped because you just said a whole lot of things that have me very excited.  We are talking about technology that would take information from the smart phone, like what would traditionally come out of a screen reader like voiceover or something like that, and you are connecting it to a glove that, on the inside of the glove, it is doing a refreshable braille tactile experience?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.

WADE WINGLER:  Okay.  Tell me more about that.  How does that work? That’s blowing my mind a little bit.

MADHURA MHATRE:  We built the glove and the application, and we went to Helen Keller Institute in Mumbai.  We had it tested with an impaired person, but then after getting the feedback from the person, we had to redesign it because the first version of the glove had sensors as well as vibrators to provide tactile feedback to the fingertip.  But then the person said that since they are totally dependent on their tactile senses for everything, after a while, the fingertip would go numb.  I really did not want to hamper the fingertips, so we had to redesign the glove.  I’m currently redesigning the glove to eliminate the sensors and just keep a kind of mechanic which helps them to replicate that paper braille on to their fingertips.  The new version of the glove is going to be superslim as well as super stylish.  It’s not going to be bulky to have unwanted attention.  It’s going to be super slim which actually replicates the paper braille.

The previous concept I worked on was — there were color coded sensors on the fingertip of the glove, and the braille was also color-coded.  Depending upon the colors, there would be tactile feedback on to the fingertip.

WADE WINGLER:  In the past, when we were talking about refreshable braille interfaces, the things I’m familiar with are piezoelectric cells and solenoids where plastic pins are raised up.  The other concept I’m familiar with I haptic interfaces.  But my last interaction with people talking about that, they could replicate surfaces like feathers or word or leather or something like that cop but not something as discrete as braille.  The interface — you can tell I’m all excited about this — is the interface physically moving up and down like a cell annoyed cell or one of the peers of electrics, or is it doing something more haptic? How does the braille actually produce inside the glove?

MADHURA MHATRE:  In the phase I of the glove, there were vibrators which use to send out small vibrations based upon the braille characters. It use to send out small vibrations.  But since I have redesigned the glove to be a much better version, they are not going to be pins.  The experience is going to be totally similar to reading a paper braille.  Right now I am in the research phase, so I would not be able disclose everything.

WADE WINGLER:  Sure.  That has my full and complete attention.  How far along in the research phase are you? What’s your process right now?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Right now my process is to study about the materials which might be comfortable in the fingertip.  I’m searching for materials which are similar to paper braille or similar to a silicon plastic, which makes them feel comfortable.  When the braille is replicated beneath the fingertips, it should not feel like it is artificial.  It should feel like it Israel.  I’m trying to look for more materials and technologies which I can incorporate into this.

WADE WINGLER:  Did you said that your original price point was around $15?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you think that’s going to be sustainable in future versions of the product when it’s commercialized? The products I’m aware of that even come close to doing these things are always several thousand dollars.  This is dramatically different.

MADHURA MHATRE:  During the research we conducted in the [Inaudible] survey, the technologies available in the market, the braille technologies like a braille smart watch or braille Kindle reader or dynamic braille display, it ranges from $300-$3000, maybe more than that.  I thought it’s not affordable for people, at least in Indiana.  People cannot afford such an expensive device.  It’s better to make something which everyone can have.  Since everyone has a smart phone in their household, so they would just need a buy a glove along with it.

WADE WINGLER:  I have to tell you, worldwide, refreshable braille technology is expensive.  In the research, if you haven’t noticed it yet, there are articles called the holy braille cop because this is one area of cost-containment in the field of assistive technology that is never been overcome dramatically.  We’ve seen people getting closer to Sumer affordable products, but this would truly be groundbreaking.

Are you talking about all smart phones or computers? In terms of the device to somebody who would use this is going to access, is it platform agnostic at this point? What’s your goal for that?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Right now I am targeting users who have a regular touchscreen smart phone that can be expanded to having a tablet or having an iPad or even an iPhone.  It may be a big display like a TV screen or computer screen.  They can actually use all those devices to read.  The research has been in how we eliminate the digital brain and have the people actually read the English documents that then get braille and put it into the fingertips.  That’s going to reduce the size of the project to specifically people from all over the globe.  People from all over the globe speak different languages, and not every language has its conversion to braille.  It would be difficult for the software to convert every language to braille, but then what if the person can read the language but have a braille input onto their fingertip, so there would be some characters on the screen, maybe in English or Spanish or French, but then have braille input onto the fingertips.  I’m trying to eliminate problems which people face.

WADE WINGLER:  Absolutely.  The last thing you said made me think of another question.  Are we talking about creating technology that will read the screen, or are you talking about doing input into the system as well?

MADHURA MHATRE:  There would not be any input into the system.  The input is going to give feedback to the glove, and that’s how the glove will replicate the character onto the fingertip.

WADE WINGLER:  So for now, the person who was interacting with the smart phone, or whatever their device is, would use traditional methods to type characters or issue commands and things like that?

MADHURA MHATRE:  [Inaudible] design this product for education purposes to read an e-book or a newspaper or magazine.  I think that it can be expanded to communications.  What if I have to communicate with a person? I just send them a message in the app, and the app sent it to the glove.  The problem of condition would also be sought through this.

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent.  Who is your target audience for this technology?

MADHURA MHATRE:  The target audience of this product could be the deaf blind community.  I have targeted the deaf blind community because there are few technologies to help this community to community with the world or learn about the world.  This technology can also be used by the blind community and also by people who want to learn braille at home or want to connect with the impaired communities.  Anyone can use this.  It’s not about reading braille but also can be used to learn braille at home.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s a great segue into my next question.  What do you think training will look like? Is the baseline assumption that a person who uses this technology is already braille user? What does training look like after that? Tell me about training.

MADHURA MHATRE:  I am assuming for a person who knows braille, this is going to be really easy because we are not doing anything extra.  We are not asking the person to learn anything extra for this.  He just has to read it the way he reads from a braille book.  He would have to adapt to the mobile phone, and since he would be wearing a glove, it would be practically impossible to learn which character would be placed on which position of the screen.  We got another inexpensive solution for this, is a have a small slipcover which has slots cut out into it so that the person would have to run his finger onto the slots, and he would never get lost where the character is placed.

For a person who doesn’t know braille, he would have to place his finger slowly into each slot and learn all the braille characters.  That’s all I’m hoping about that.

WADE WINGLER:  What’s the long-term market play for this? Is this a product you plan to take to market yourself? Are you looking to license it to others? What does this look like when it’s a commercially viable product?

MADHURA MHATRE:  For now, I’m trying to complete my research and understand what people want from it or what people are expecting from it or how I am supposed to tackle the other problems.  The long-term purpose, I am looking to get this product to communities and organizations or a company like yours who are connected with the impaired individuals or impaired communities and helping them to use technology.  I would love to have this product be available to all such people.

WADE WINGLER:  As we were chatting in the preinterview, you said you’re looking for feedback.  You would love to hear from people who are braille users or are familiar with it and are interested in technology.  That’s the case, right?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.

WADE WINGLER:  When we go ahead and put your contact information into the show now so that if people want to reach out to you and say hey, I think it would be great if it did this, or I have some feedback, how should they reach out to you?

MADHURA MHATRE:  They can reach out to me through email.  My email address is mmhatre@iu.edu.

WADE WINGLER:  M-M-H-A-T-R-E at iu.edu?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.

WADE WINGLER:  To me about this award that you just won.

MADHURA MHATRE:  It was a pitch competition where we had three minutes to pitch our idea without having any slide or without having any product in our hand.  It was just a pitch competition.  We just had three minutes.  In that three minutes, we have to define the problem as well as pitch our solution and how that solution would affect the market or how it would be useful for people who are going to use it.

WADE WINGLER:  Is the award cash, or did you get a plaque? What was the outcome of the award?

MADHURA MHATRE:  The award is cash, so I won a prize of $2, 500. I’m waiting for my check.

WADE WINGLER:  That’ll be awesome.  Will you use that money for product development or are you going to take a trip?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Since I want it, I decided that I’m not going to touch this money for any of my personal wishes or expenses.  I’m going to use the money to complete this project a matter what.

WADE WINGLER:  Very good.  When you and I are at a conference five years from now and you bump into each other between sessions, and I say what’s going on with braille tech, tell me what success will look like five years from now.

MADHURA MHATRE:  Five years from now, I imagine to have the product developed and released to the world and get feedback from them and redesign it to a better version.  I will be constantly redesigning to see people from all over the globe so that nobody in the world is left behind or feeling lonely or might not be able to know about the world.  But then I really want them to get connected with everyone in the world so that they can lead a life like us.  Everything is going to get digital a few years from now, so why is it so that the impaired community should be left behind? They should also get digitalized like us.

WADE WINGLER:  And your email address over time if folks want to reach out to you?

MADHURA MHATRE:  Yes.  My email addresses mmhatre@iu.edu.

WADE WINGLER:  Madhura Mhatre is an IUPUI informatics graduate student and has been our delightful guest today.  Thanks so much for being on our show.

MADHURA MHATRE:  Thank you for inviting me.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi.  For requests and inquiries, contact tjcortopassi@gmail.com***