When most of us are surfing the Web we generally do it in much the same way we read a newspaper. We scan the entire page looking for information that interests us before focusing our attention on that area. But imagine if your computer display only allowed you to see one line at a time. Finding that relevant nugget of information suddenly changes from a simple exercise to a time consuming chore. That’s the problem facing blind computer users today who are forced to rely on expensive electronic Braille displays that only show one line of text at a time. Researchers have now developed a concept that could enable a full-page, refreshable Braille display that would allow the blind to take full advantage of the Web and other computer applications.
Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a concept called a “hydraulic and latching mechanism,” which would not only use a series of dots to represent letters and numbers, it would also translate images into tactile displays, effectively mapping pixels in an image and allowing the full-page Braille display to represent the images as raised dots.
The mechanism would be made of an electroactive polymer that is very resilient and inexpensive, when compared to current Braille display technologies that generally rely on a mechanism which raises the dots using the piezo effect of some crystals, where they expand when a voltage is applied to them. The crystal is connected to a lever, which in turn raises the dot. There has to be a crystal for each dot of the display, meaning eight per character.
With the new mechanism, once the dots are raised to the correct height, a latching mechanism would support the weight being applied by a person’s fingers as the dots are read. The material also responds quickly, allowing a reader to scroll through a document or Web site.
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