Stony Brook CS Professors to Develop Tactile Gloves with New Research Grant

They’ve done it again! Department of Computer Science professors Yevgen Borodin and IV Ramakrishnan have been awarded a research grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). This is the second of two grants that they have very recently been awarded, as they also received a large R01 grant for their project on assistive technology platforms.

With this NIDILRR grant, the professors will be working on the development of haptic gloves empowering people with visual impairments to interact with their computer devices via an audio-tactile interface. The research seeks to enable blind users to connect the haptic gloves to any computer device and then feel out and listen to the content of the screen by moving the gloved hands on any flat surface such as the desk.

The heavy dependency on screen-based text in today's society can be overwhelming. The project’s abstract points out that, while we are all vulnerable to “information overload” to some degree, blind and/or visually impaired people are at a particular disadvantage because it takes them so much longer to review and process digital information. “In our experiments, we found that, compared to sighted people, blind computer users often take 10 times longer to do simple tasks on the computer, just because they have to listen through reams of text before they can tell if it is relevant to the task at hand.” said Borodin. In order to quell this problem, Borodin and Ramakrishnan propose the haptic gloves. The professors will research and develop algorithms capable of running such a device and ultimately produce design specifications and prototype gloves. In evaluating the gloves with end users, they will also look into the tactile behaviors naturally utilized by blind people, in order to optimize the performance of these novel gloves.

NIDILRR, which granted the $600,000 in funding, is a funding agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The research, entitled Haptic Gloves for Audio-Tactile Web Accessibility, will take place over the course of three years, with an estimated completion date in 2019. The research is particularly important for the field of computer and web accessibility (which both professors focus on) because it will not only dramatically improve accessibility for the visually impaired, but also allow access to totally new avenues of graphical information. This could perhaps increase their capacity for education, and even improve their employability.

Professor Borodin, a 2015 MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35, earned his PhD in computer science from Stony Brook in 2009. His research focuses on web accessibility, along with information retrieval, web content analysis, and data mining. Professor Ramakrishnan received his PhD in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin in 1983. His research interests are in artificial intelligence and computer accessibility.


-by MIchael Curatola