Learning a different language is not easy, but U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes. Small motors at the knuckle of each finger vibrate to tell the user to press a corresponding key, with an audio system telling them which Braille letter they are typing. Experts at Georgia Technology then discovered that users with the gloves were still accurate in understanding Braille, even if they were distracted for 30 minutes – a teaching technique called "passive haptic learning" (PHL). Metro spoke to study co-author PhD student Caitlyn Seim to find out more.
Why did you decide to create these gloves?
We wanted to examine if more complex skills, such as typing, could be taught through 'passive haptic learning', a method that uses vibration without giving attention to the device that causes the stimulation. Braille is difficult and complex to learn.
Can people wearing the gloves really learn Braille in 45 minutes?
Yes, users can learn some Braille in that time. The person wears our gloves for a period of learning. They feel vibration patterns on their hands and hear some audio that corresponds to this vibration. The user pays no attention to the gloves – they are playing a memory game instead. At the end of this game, they remove the gloves and can perform the "muscle memory" skill, such as typing some Braille.
How did you find out that the gloves work?
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Users came in for four sessions totaling around four hours where they were wearing the gloves, typing and reading tests in Braille. The people that wore the gloves for passive haptic learning learned to read on average 93.3% of the alphabet in Braille; they typed old and new phrases in Braille with zero errors before the end of four hours.
Are we in general better as passive learners?
Passive learning can save time by allowing multitasking – i.e. learning a new motor skill while paying attention to doing something else.
People with motor problems can also use these gloves?
We have also done research in passive haptic rehabilitation. I will continue this work later in my thesis.