Old Dominion University, HaptX, and Georgia Tech Win Grant Award for Project to Advance VR for Vision-Impaired

Groundbreaking “virtual Braille” research applies virtual reality and advanced haptics 

REDMOND, Wash., April 23, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — To investigate the use of advanced touch simulation for improving accessibility to digital information, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, and National Eye Institute have awarded a Phase 1 Small Business Technology Transfer program grant to a research team from Old Dominion University (ODU), HaptX, and Georgia Institute of Technology to investigate “Glove-based Tactile Streaming of Braille Characters and Digital Images for the Visually Impaired.” 

The team aims to transform the ways in which visually impaired individuals explore and navigate virtual environments. Wearing HaptX Gloves, users will experience precise tactile interaction with streaming digital images and objects. The ODU-led team will study feasibility and develop proof of concept, assess commercial potential, and build a foundation for a Phase II prototype. 

“Our research team will explore solutions that can significantly improve digital experiences for visually impaired people,” said HaptX Founder and CEO Jake Rubin. “By unlocking access to the vast array of content previously inaccessible to people with limited sight, this project intends to make digital inclusivity a tangible reality.” 

Co-principal investigators Dr. Michel Audette, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at ODU Batten College of Engineering and Technology, and HaptX Director of R&D Michael Eichermueller, lead the study, supported by Dr. Bruce Walker, PhD, of Georgia Tech’s Sonification Lab.  

In an era marked by rapid technological advancement, the challenge of visual impairment remains a significant global public health issue. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 300 million people worldwide live with significant visual impairments. In the United States alone, nearly 20 million individuals navigate the daily realities of low vision and blindness, confronting barriers to education, employment, and quality of life. 

“This project offers an altruistic aspect in crafting a technical solution that can make a difference in the integration and instruction of the Visually Impaired community,” Dr. Audette said. “At the same time, computer-assisted medicine is undergoing an algorithmic revolution in the form of deep neural networks and freely available source code and data repositories. New collaborations arise serendipitously and lead to projects that none of us could have foreseen. This is true of my relationship with HaptX; my original interest involved a proposal on obstetrics simulation based on their haptic glove. This new ‘VR for VI’ project captivated us.” 

Dr. Bruce Walker currently leads a project using HaptX Gloves for submarine safety training at Georgia Tech’s Sonification Lab. He will support the “virtual Braille” UI design and auditory displays. He said, “Using tactile perception to display numbers and text has been a global standard ever since Louis Braille’s invention 200 years ago. There have been few advances since. This new collaboration between HaptX, ODU, and Georgia Tech will bring dynamic Braille and much more to blind and low-vision users. The Georgia Tech Sonification Lab is proud to be part of its rigorous validation.” 

This project will implement HaptX’s proprietary, high-fidelity microfluidic actuation for precise fingertip rendering of Braille content, ODU’s software algorithms for mapping lexical and graphical elements to haptic rendering of Braille and bas-relief-converted, Deep Neural Network-segmented digital images, and validation studies conducted at Georgia Tech. The concept extends to tactile perception of graphical data: charts, figures, even road maps and topographic maps.

By bridging the accessibility gap for the visually impaired, the ODU-HaptX-Georgia Tech project opens new realms of engagement with spatial computing environments. Potential applications promise to unlock educational and employment opportunities, fostering greater independence and societal integration for millions of people around the world. 

About HaptX: HaptX builds technology that simulates touch sensation with unprecedented realism for use in virtual reality and robotics. The new HaptX Gloves G1 system leverages advances in materials science and manufacturing to deliver advanced performance in the first haptic gloves that fit like conventional work gloves. HaptX is headquartered in Redmond, WA, with offices in San Luis Obispo, CA. Contact
or visit haptx.com to experience the new HaptX Gloves G1.     

Contact: Linda Jacobson, Marketing Director, 
, 805-888-4278 x122

SOURCE HaptX, Inc.