EU collaborative grant: NOMS: Nano-Optical Mechanical Systems
General description and scope
The purpose of the NOMS project is to build a visual-aid tablet for visually impaired people which may be attached to computers, I-Pods, mobile phones, etc. The device will utilise novel developments in optically-actuated nano-composite materials.
Nano-optical mechanical actuation based on nanotube-enriched polymeric materials is a much sought-after technology. In this scheme, light sources promote mechanical actuation of the polymeric producing a variety of nano-optical mechanical systems such as tactile displays, artificial muscles, and nano-grippers among others. The purpose of the NOMS project is to fabricate microsystems capable of light-induced mechanical actuation. In particular, the team proposes to build a tactile visual-aid tablet for the visually impaired, as shown in the schematic below. Accomplishing this ambitious project requires knowledge of basic and intergrating research in the field. It also required the contribution of expert neuropsychologists to study, in cooperation with end-users, the effectiveness of the tablet both as an assistive tool for the visually impaired and as a research tool in the field of neuropsychology.
NOMS will provide tactile screens for the visually impaired to read complex visual representations such as mathematical equations and graphical images. Everyday activities of such individuals will be greatly improved by including these devices in ATMs, personal computers, mobile phones etc. This project is visionary with respect to some of the mainstream R&D directions, offering European industry a competitive advantage in the assistive technology marketplace worldwide.
The NOMS project will bring this technology to maturity by developing the nano-composite material to behave according to a set of specifications and then integrating it into a tactile display device. Technology for the visually impaired is currently rather archaic with no refreshable media where an image may be left. To feel an image, a print out using special paper is required. The tactile display will allow for images to be left across a range of refreshable media. There has recently been enormous growth in consumer devices with touch screens (e.g. iPhone.) Tactile displays in such devices would also potentially be useful for sighted individuals.
During the course of the project one of the partners, a neuropsychologist, will utilize the prototype tactile display to conduct fundamental research into how the brain processes tactile information.
Deskription of subproject
Psychophysical studies on tactile spatial acuity and studies testing the use of NOMS for complex spatial tests will be conducted in healthy and, if appropriate, visually impaired people. Once available, the new tactile system also allows Braille to be presented in a manner that allows individuals to read with their preferred reading strategy (e.g., two hands) at their maximal speed. Moreover, it is possible to monitor the position of the reading finger on the tablet. Thus, by combining the NOMS device with ERP recordings, the neural correlates of Braille reading can be monitored on-line, which will provide the first understanding of how the haptic modality assesses brain areas mediating different aspects of language processing (including phonology, syntax and semantics).