For the visually impaired, the sense of touch forms a bridge to the written word through Braille. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) hopes touch will forge a similar path to the world of electronic images. NIST project leader, John Roberts, and his team of computer scientists and engineers created a tactile graphic display using the "bed-of-nails" concept. "We mat our display on top of a platter," says Roberts—the very same platter that is used for making line drawings such as engineering drawings, blue prints, and other large format artwork. "Only, we took off the pen and attached a solenoid," he adds. This solenoid points upward so that it draws on the underside of the reading surface. This surface, equipped with 3,600 small metal pins, resembles the bed-of-nails toy. "The pins are just long enough that they stick out of the bottom of the surface just a little bit," says Roberts, "so when the solenoid draws and moves along the underside of the reading surface, it pushes the pins up that it contacts. You end up with a pattern of raised pins representing the lines that the platter was drawing." The pins are then locked into place by a sliding metal sheet. When the reader is finished, he or she pushes the metal sheet away and the pins fall back into their original position. Special software translates graphics into the tactile format. Members of the National Federation of the Blind are currently field testing the display. "The response has been very favorable so far," says Roberts. "Most people who have tried it can feel it very well." The technology is ready to be licensed by a manufacturer for further development and manufacturing. For more information, contact John Roberts at John.Roberts@nist.gov.
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