Haptic Gloves Teach Braille Without Effort

Passive haptic learning has been used to teach Braille to volunteers by special gloves that stimulate their hands; no actual attention to the task is paid.

Each study participant wore a pair of gloves with tiny vibrating motors stitched into the knuckles. The motors vibrated in a sequence that corresponded with the typing pattern of a pre-determined phrase in Braille. Audio cues let the users know the Braille letters produced by typing that sequence. Afterwards, everyone tried to type the phrase one time, without the cues or vibrations, on a keyboard.

The sequences were then repeated during a distraction task. Participants played a game for 30 minutes and were told to ignore the gloves. Half of the participants felt repeated vibrations and heard the cues; the others only heard the audio cues. When the game was over, participants tried to type the phrase without wearing the gloves.

“Those in the control group did about the same on their second attempt (as they did in their pre-study baseline test),” said Starner. “But participants who felt the vibrations during the game were a third more accurate. Some were even perfect.”

Robert Heinlein fans will remember his 1942 novella Waldo how Waldo F. Jones taught machinists using waldoes - tele operated gloves:

'Now.. . your name, please?'
'Alexander Jenkins.'
'Very well, friend Alec - the gloves.' Jenkins thrust his arms into the waldoes and waited. Waldo put his arms into the primary pair before him; all three pairs, including the secondary pair mounted before the machine, came to life. Jenkins bit his lip, as if he found unpleasant the sensation of having his fingers manipulated by the gauntlets he wore.
Waldo flexed and extended his fingers gently; the two pairs of waldoes in the screen followed in exact, simultaneous paral-lelism.
'Feel it, my dear Alec,' Waldo advised. 'Gently, gently the sensitive touch. Make your muscles work for you.'
He then started hand movements of definite pattern; the waldoes at the power tool reached up, switched on the power, and began gently, gracefully, to continue the machining of the casting.

Via Georgia Tech News; see also this interesting TED talk on passive haptic learning. Thanks to Joe for writing in with the tip.

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