Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a glove that helps the visually impaired learn Braille, even when they are not paying attention or when they are doing something else. This glove is based on a similar project the researchers had called Piano Touch, which teaches individuals how to play the piano in 45 minutes. The process is known as passive haptic learning (PHL), a technique that helps people acquire muscle memory through vibration stimuli.
In a study assessing the effectiveness of these vibrating gloves, participants wore a pair of gloves with rotating motors stitched into the knuckles. These motors were then programmed to vibrate in a pattern that reflected and translated phrases in Braille. Audio cues then informed the participants of the Braille letters created when a particular sequence is typed. At the end, the participants were asked to type the phrase learned without vibrations or cues from the gloves.
This process was repeated again on the participants, but this time they were given a distraction task. The participants were told to ignore the gloves while they played a game for 30 minutes. The participants were then split in half – half of them received vibrations and audio cues while playing the game, while the other half only heard audio cues. When the game was over, they were again asked to type the phrase without wearing the gloves. Participants who felt the vibrations were a third more accurate, with some earning a perfect score.
No one in this study knew the language of Braille or had previously typed on a Braille keyboard. Participants also could not see what they had typed, and they had no indication of their accuracy throughout the study. Participants were even able to transfer the knowledge learned from typing Braille into reading. After the test, they could recognize 70% of the letters in a phrase.
Not only is this research important for aiding the visually impaired, or learning piano, but the gloves have also been used to help improve sensation and mobility for those with spinal injuries.