A touch of real genius

GraVVITAS is a standard tablet PC with touch screen technology that uses vibration and sounds to guide the visually impaired user around a diagram.

GraVVITAS is a standard tablet PC with touch screen technology that uses vibration and sounds to guide the visually impaired user around a diagram.

Three researchers from Monash University have received an Honourable Mention in the 2012 Touch of Genius Awards, organised by the National Braille Press (NBP) in the US.

The NBP, founded in 1927 and based in Boston, aims to promote the literacy of blind children through braille and to provide access to information that empowers blind people to engage in work, family and community affairs.

The $5000 Honourable Mention was awarded to Dr Cagatay Goncu, Professor Kim Marriott and Adjunct Associate Professor John Hurst from the Faculty of Information Technology for their submission of the Graphics Viewer using Vibration, Interactive Touch, Audio and Speech (GraVVITAS).

GraVVITAS is a multi-modal presentation device that uses touch screen and haptic feedback technologies to give blind people access to graphics. A data glove equipped with vibrating motors provides haptic feedback when the finger is over a graphic element on the tablet computer. GraVVITAS also provides speech and 3D non-speech audio feedback to help the user with navigation. 

The team began the project in 2008 as part of Dr Goncu's PhD studies, collaborating with domain experts from Vision Australia and conducting usability studies with blind participants.

Dr Goncu, a Research Fellow at Monash University, focuses on universal accessibility, multi-modal human computer interaction, tactile graphics, and information visualisation.

“It is a great motivation for us to see that our research is recognised by the domain experts, and considered as a promising technology that can change the life of people who are blind,” Dr Goncu said.

“I feel very lucky that I have worked with two excellent supervisors who have supported me during this project.”

Professor Marriott leads the Monash Adaptive Visualisation Lab (MArVL) and inspired this project after realising how important accessible graphics were in education for a blind second-year university student.

Adjunct Associate Professor Hurst is passionate about helping students in their learning processes and researching technology-supported learning.

“It is very pleasing when one of your postgrads wins such an award. Supervising good students is always a pleasure. Chatai was an excellent student, and the congratulations should all really go to him. But it is nice to bask in the reflected glory,” Adjunct Associate Professor Hurst said.