ATU313 – Purdue University’s New Haptic Interface


ATU logo

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.

Purdue University’s New Haptic Device | Ting Zhang, Doctoral Student
10 Tips for Serving Deaf Customers at Your Small Business

The Deaf-Blind Can Now ‘Watch’ Television Without Intermediaries
Apple Designed for Videos:
App: Flipboard |
If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email
Check out our web site:
Follow us on Twitter: @INDATAproject
Like us on Facebook:

——-transcript follows ——


TING ZHANG: Hi, this is Ting Zhang, and I’m a doctoral student in the school of industrial engineering at Purdue University, and this is your Assistance 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 313 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on May 26, 2017.

Today we talk with Ting Zhang who was a doctoral student at Purdue about a new device having to do with haptic interfaces. Some interesting tips about how businesses can serve customers who are deaf. And some interesting stuff from the folks at Apple making commercials are related to accessibility.

We hope you’ll check out our website at, send us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or call our listener line at 317-721-7124.


As I’m putting together the show for this week as well as scheduling interviews for last week and the upcoming weeks, I realized that we run upon and an intentional theme of assistive technology directed towards people who are blind or visually impaired, a lot of it having to do with tactile interfaces. For example, last week in episode 312 we interviewed Liz Thompson who talked about the art side of audio description and how to do that. Today our guest is talking about a new, fairly experimental haptic interface design for folks were blind or visually impaired. In the upcoming weeks, we either have interviews pre-recorded or scheduled with folks who are talking about the Dot braille smart watch and also a group of MIT students who are working on a device that will do OCR on the fly and convert it to braille. We’ve got a lot of these things recorded in some of them in the works and finalizing. I thought it was interesting to point out that we have a series that happens to be related to blindness, vision impairment, and more of those tactile interfaces. We hope you enjoy this content.

We are always looking for ideas from you on who we might interview on the show. We’d love to hear from you. You can send us a note on our email or listener line. That information is at the end of the show. We’d like to hear your suggestions. If you want to hear the story, we are probably interested in putting it on the show.

Without further ado, here we go.


This isn’t exactly an assistive technology topic, but it hit my newsline here and made me realize that interesting information. The headline from Small Business Trends reads, “10 tips for serving deaf customers that your small business.” I think it’s a pretty good list of things that business might want to think about. It includes some assistive technology stuff. It spent a lot of time talking about the importance of video relay systems. Companies like Sorenson that provide the service that allows people to do sign language to sign language interaction over a videophone or video relay in which a person who is hearing communicates with someone who is deaf via sign language with a video intermediary. They talk about using text and email as an inherently accessible way to communicate with people who are deaf. They talk about adjusting the interview process accordingly, making sure that you have materials that don’t unintentionally disqualify someone who is deaf. They talk about some emergency technology like making sure that your fire alarms and smoke alarms have visual cues. They talk about some training things like making sure your staff know some basic signs, like where is the restroom or basic information related to a menu in a restaurant. They talk about acting out scenarios and role-playing so that people who work in this environment are more familiar with the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. They even talk about deaf etiquette and the importance to know some things about that, serving people who are deaf and being aware of the deaf community, the number of folks who are deaf in your environment, whether or not there might be other organizations targeting deaf employees.

Pretty cool article, not exactly assistive technology but certainly some AT stuff in there. I’ll pop a link in the show notes and you can check out the article for yourself.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a whole lot in my newsfeed about a story coming out of Madrid. The Universidad Carlos III, or UCM III, they have a program that’s working with people who are deaf/blind and how to allow them to watch television. Apparently the service they have developed is compatible with the Go All. What it does is take all the subtitles from television channels and puts them on a centralized server and sends those out to smartphones and tablets which then can be connected to a braille display. They send out the subtitles in a way that they are synchronized with television and available for people who are deaf/blind. As I read the article, I have more questions than answers. There are some things about the technology I still don’t understand and a bit of a language issue that makes me realize this is very much a Spanish language project, although they say they have tested the software in Spain and the United States with satisfactory results. Apparently they will test it in other areas of Spain, and by assumption it will be available in other places around the world.

If you want to check it out for now, they say in this news release that all you need to do is go to your iOS or android app store and download the Go All app. If anybody in the listening audience has more experience or information about this, I would love to hear from you. You can reach out to us on our listener line at 317-721-7124. There is a voicemail box where you can leave your information and you might hear your voice on next week’s show.

I’ll pop a link in the show notes. The headline will read, “Death/blind can now watch television without intermediaries.” Check our show notes.


This is cool. Check this out.


SPEAKER:  At first my motivation was proving people wrong.

[Overlapping drums and dialogue]

WADE WINGLER:  What you are hearing is an excerpt of a YouTube video or commercial called “Designed for Carlos V by Apple.” On World Accessibility Day not long ago, Apple released a series of 14 really cool videos that highlight accessibility and assistive technology users. The one you heard is about Carlos who is a social media publicity manager for a heavy metal band and is a voice over user. There is another one about Andrea who is a nursing student, uses a wheelchair, and uses her Apple Watch to record wheelchair specific workouts that she shares with her friends. There is another one about a girl named Meera who is nonverbal and plays soccer and uses her iPad as a communication device. You have to check out these stories. Apple has created these to increase awareness of accessibility. I know I’m a self-avowed Apple fan boy, but I really think they knocked it out of the park with these particular videos. They are also available in audio described version which further speaks to their accessibility.

I would encourage you to check out our show notes. I’ll pop a link in the show notes to the YouTube playlist where the title is “Accessibility:  design for everyone.” You can check out these videos.


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 I am sharing an app called Flipboard: News for Every Passion. Flipboard is a social news app that allows users to keep track of their favorite topics in one place. This is a great app for anyone who loves social media and keeping up with the news. Flipboard is accessible to people who are visually impaired. Content can be read out loud and navigated using additional gestures on iOS, android, the web, and Apple Watch devices. There is no cost to download Flipboard. When you begin using the app, you must provide an email address and create a login. Then you can customize a dashboard.

Users create custom smart magazines based on their interests and passions. There are a plethora of topics to choose from that can be deleted or added at any time. The smart magazines then serve as the user’s homepage. Within each of these magazines are stories related to the topic gathered from multiple sources. Users can also customize from within each story by indicating if they would like to see more or less of similar stories. They can also start a discussion with other users and save articles. There are many ways to customize Flipboard based on the likes and needs of the user, and there is an endless amount of information from a variety of sources. This is the ultimate app for anyone keeping up with the news and social media.

One of the highlights of the app is the ability to link stories of two other social media accounts. This feature is not available on every article, but it’s still nice to link articles to other media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Overall we found this to be an excellent app for anyone who wants to increase cognitive skills and for users who like to be up to speed when it comes to news and current events. We believe this app would be beneficial for teachers, students, and anyone who wants to access a variety of media sources all in one place.

Flipboard is available for free at the iTunes and Google play stores and is compatible with iOS and android devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit


WADE WINGLER:  The INDATA Project has been partners with Purdue University and all kinds of projects for a number of years. We keep an eye on the things that are new and coming out of Perdue, especially when they relate to assistive or adaptive technology. You can imagine how excited I was when I saw a story recently about a new haptic interface that’s been developed by Ting Zhang who is a doctoral student. I immediately ring the bell of a friend of mine, Dr. Brad Durstock, and said, “Can you put me in touch with this Ting so I can talk to her on our show about what’s happening with haptic interfaces?” He was kind enough to oblige.

Today we are joined on our show by Ting Zhang who is a doctoral student at Purdue school of industrial engineering. Welcome to the show.

TING ZHANG:  Hi. This is Ting.

WADE WINGLER:  How are you doing today?

TING ZHANG:  I’m good.

WADE WINGLER:  Thank you so much for taking time out of your academic and research scheduled to spend some time with us. We are excited to have you on the show. I’m not sure that everyone in our audience is going to be familiar with the term haptic interface. Can we talk a little bit about what haptic interface is in general and we can talk about the one you are working on?

TING ZHANG:  A haptic UI is a UI that you pulled like a stylus and it provides you force feedback. I have an example. You can imagine you have a rubber duck in a pond, and you’re going to poke that using a wooden stick. When you are holding the stylus or haptic device, just think you’re holding the wooden stick. You can feel you are poking the rubber duck and feel it floating on the water. When you are pushing it down, you can feel the resistance of the water that’s pushing it up. That’s basically how you can feel forces using that device.

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent. When I think of haptic devices, I think of the things like smartphones that vibrate and give us that force or tactile feedback. Tell me about the device you are working on. What does it do and how does it work?

TING ZHANG:  The one I’m working on does basically the same thing I explained. You feel these forces. Of course it can provide vibrations, but it’s a much more rich, tactile information than just the tablet.

WADE WINGLER:  Does this one work on a computer specifically?  What particular operating system?  What hardware and software are we talking about?

TING ZHANG:  The haptic device is hardware, and you can connect it with the computer using a USB cable. It has an open source library that you can program with different languages.

WADE WINGLER:  The hardware then is a physical device and it has a stylus?  Is that right?

TING ZHANG:  Yes. It actually has different [inaudible]. The one we are using currently is the stylus. They also have a [Inaudible] so you can feel something when you’re opening and closing your fingers.

WADE WINGLER:  I saw a picture of it. Does the stylus or part you hold onto, is it on a tablet or surface, or does it float?  How is it held up?

TING ZHANG:  It depends on the tablet or standalone device. You can move [Inaudible].

WADE WINGLER:  From a software perspective, what’s running on the computer that drives the haptic interface?

TING ZHANG:  They have a library called Kite 3D [phonetic] that integrates the device with a software interface that you can control different forces, and you can create a virtual space that you can have the water and rubber duck in a virtual space, and you can integrate a virtual point that represents the device you are using.

WADE WINGLER:  That starting to make sense to me. What kind of information do you put in this virtual environment?  What kind of objects would you put in there to explore?

TING ZHANG:  For my research, for my project?

WADE WINGLER:  Yes, or just in general. I’m trying to conceptualize what this experience would be like.

TING ZHANG:  For my research, what I’m doing is to help blind people navigate images. I will create a 3-D model of a 2-D image.  You know an image is a plane, but we can raise part of the image depending on its intensity. Darker areas can be higher than the lighter colors. When you’re using the haptic device, you can actually feel the differences of those heights depending on which area is darker and lighter.

WADE WINGLER:  Tell me about the experience from the perspective of the user. Let’s say I’m someone who is blind, and I want to explore an image. Give me an example of an image that I might explore and what my experience is like. What do I do with my hands and what do I sense?

TING ZHANG:  Imagine you have an image with glass mirrors. You have white blood cells and red blood cells on the image. Red blood cells have a structure that has darker peripheral area. When you are holding the haptic device and moving around, when you are moving on the red blood cells you will feel stronger vibrations other than the central area. You will feel this kind of texture.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m closing my eyes and imagining seeing an image of white blood cells and red blood cells. When I’m using the device, if I were to move my hand around on that image, what I feel the edges of it?  What I feel the texture?  Would I feel the fact that it’s a concave surface on a blood cell?

TING ZHANG:  Yes, you would definitely feel does. The image has its frame so you can move outside. When you are hitting the frame of the image, you will feel like hitting a wall. It will give you a force against you so you won’t move out of the image. Also the similar thing when you’re moving around cells, the boundary of the cells also have a little while that you can trace so you can feel the shape of the cells and how large they are.

WADE WINGLER:  Maybe I missed this before. Is there something that lets me know what the color or lightness or darkness is?  Is that the intensity of the vibration?

TING ZHANG:  Yes. It has different vibrations in terms of the color. When you’re moving around darker areas, we can feel stronger vibrations. For color we have keywords indicating which color it is. There is a button on the device you can press to hear a keyword about the color.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s an audio component that speaks to color to you.


WADE WINGLER:  Talk to me a little bit about the technical details. The image that you are creating – we are using blood cells as an example. Is that an image that was created inside of the open source software that the haptic interface uses, or was it imported from another software?

TING ZHANG:  The image itself can be from anywhere, a website or textbook. Whenever it is a digital image, it will work with a software interface. The thing we are doing automatically to extract the key information from the image that we convert to different sensations, like we use image processing techniques to detect the boundaries of cells. We also detect different patterns of the cells so it can distinguish between red blood cells and white blood cells.

WADE WINGLER:  In addition to blood cells, what other kinds of images work well with the system?

TING ZHANG:  The system will work well with educational images, like in math class you have bar charts or diagrams, line drawings. I think this tool is perfect for those images.

WADE WINGLER:  Scientific data and charts and graphs makes sense. What about more detailed diagrams?  We’ve talked about blood cells, but what if you are doing something with maps or neurons and things that have less heart of images?  What about those kinds of images?

TING ZHANG:  I think it definitely will work with those images. What probably will be required is a more complicated image processing technique that can extract the key information from the image. I think that’s definitely doable.

WADE WINGLER:  Are there kinds of images that are particularly challenging or things that will work well with the system?

TING ZHANG:  For now I’m thinking a portrait. If you want to distinguish “Lady A” or “Lady B” using this image processing technique, it may be too much difference between two different ladies’ portraits.

WADE WINGLER:  I see. How far along in development is this project?  Is it ready for commercialization?  Is it still in research mode?  How far along?

TING ZHANG:  We are working towards the commercialization of this. We are also still working to promote the efficiency and how accurate the whole system could be. We are kind of working in parallel toward each side.

WADE WINGLER:  I know that people who are blind or visually impaired have been learning all kinds of things about images and science for a long time. How does this technology compared to the previous methods that people who are blind or visually impaired might have had for learning this kind of stuff?

TING ZHANG:  Currently they are using tactile paper to print images. Those images need to be simplified as line drawings and need to be created by people that may take several hours to produce one image. Compared to those technologies, using this haptic interface is real-time. You just give it a digital image and you can start exploring it instantly. I think that’s a huge improvement compared to the traditional way of exploring the image.

WADE WINGLER:  I would guess that it’s also more portable when you think about cloud-based solutions and the ability to send information over the Internet. I suppose you could distribute this more easily than physical paper.

TING ZHANG:  That’s definitely a good point. Portability is a key point as well.

WADE WINGLER:  What are the long-term goals with this?  We talked about commercialization. If this were to go to a product, what would it look like and who would buy it and where would it be used?

TING ZHANG:  For now we are thinking primarily we want to start deploying them in families to help kids learn math and chemistry, basic subjects. We are thinking it’s like a bundle of software interfaces and the device itself.

WADE WINGLER:  Are there non-disability potential uses for this technology outside of the world of vision impairment?  If so, what are they?

TING ZHANG:  The haptic device itself is a big thing for games because they can provide force feedback. It can simulate different scenarios like gunshots and boats or fishing effects. Instead of helping people with visual impairments, it can be life-changing experience for people who can see as well. Also in some research fields, even when people can see, some are difficult for visual sensations. They can feel using our haptic interface that can also get an idea of what material they are using or what they are now beginning.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m guessing here, but I can imagine in medical training, a surgeon has to not only look and see what a procedure would look like, but I suppose there are some tactile things that might be helpful in assimilation environment.


WADE WINGLER:  I’m fascinated with what you’re doing here. Is there someplace on the web that people can go to learn more about your work or see pictures or get more information about the project you’re doing?

TING ZHANG:  I have a website I can send you after our interview.

WADE WINGLER:  I will drop that in the show notes so people who are listening can check the website and do that.


WADE WINGLER:  Ting Zhang is a doctoral student at Purdue school of industrial engineering and has shared with us an insight into her haptic interface project that she’s been doing. Thank you so much for being on our show today.

TING ZHANG:  Thank you.

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 Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *