Magazine article ASEE Prism

Helping Hands

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Helping Hands

Article excerpt

AUSTRALIA-Gloves are in vogue. But these latest creations would be more at home in an engineering research lab than on the catwalk. They come not from fashion designers but from engineers involved in two unrelated Australian projects. One helps deaf-blind people to communicate with each other while the other aids muscle repair.

Design engineer Peter Hvala, a Ph.D. student at Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology, says his idea was sparked by a TV film in which people who are both deaf and blind explained their communication difficulties and a system of palm-touching called deaf-blind finger-spelling. "In the documentary a woman described how, when she lets go of the hand of the person with whom she's communicating, they could be 1,000 miles apart," Hvala recalled. "It made sense that there's a need for a device to emulate the second person."

He acknowledges that deaf-blind people use a wide variety of communication techniques. Those with some vision can access e-mail, others use Braille keypads-but many deaf-blind people depend on tactile communication. Hvala's glove allows people to use finger-spelling to construct words as if they are touching the person with whom they are communicating-except these words are transmitted in much the same way as cellular telephone text messages. Users must connect to a cell phone number. The recipient receives the message as a series of vibrating "touches" through a glove identical to that worn by the sender. …

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