What is SUITCEYES about?
The overall objective of SUITCEYES is to improve the level of independence and participation of people with deafblindness and to enhance their communication, perception of the environment, knowledge acquisition and conduct of daily routines.
Deafblindness is a condition that can be congenital or acquired through illness, accident and/or old age. There are currently an estimated 2.5 million individuals in Europe with deafblindness. Due to extended life-expectancy and the aging population, this number is expected to rise considerably by the 2030s. Currently, there are few ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) tools specifically developed for this group of users. For instance, a braille communicator is a very common ICT.
What is our aim?
SUITCEYES aims at combining and developing cutting-edge technologies and ICT tools to provide a smart, adaptable, haptic interface, which is based on machine learning, sensor technologies, image and signal processing, psychophysics, and affective computing. The project result will (i) extend the localisation and environmental perception of the user and (ii) will extend and improve user’s modes of communication via a haptic interface. Various user studies will inform the project about the needs of the target group and design elements that will allow customisation. To promote and facilitate learning, as well as to capture and extend user´s interest, umwelt, and engagement, (iii) gamification and mediated social interaction will also be incorporated.
As a result of this Research&Innovation project, the SUITCEYES Consortium will develop and deliver a prototype of a haptic, intelligent, personalised, interface (HIPI) that is intended to be further developed and commercialised in due course after the project ends, affording improved communication possibilities for its users.
What is a HIPI?
Nasrine Olson, project coordinator and senior lecturer at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science explains:
“By using sensors, face and object recognition, and other technologies, information about the surroundings will be captured and communicated to the user via a haptic interface based on smart textiles. We call this interface the HIPI (haptic intelligent personalised interface). We will start with the existing haptic signals, then adapt or extend them for our purposes. The HIPI will be interactive, that is, it will also allow the user to activate signals that will convey different messages to other people and even some ‘things’.”
Garments as a communication interface?
One idea is that the garment, acting as a smart interface, will transfer information to the bearers through haptic signals, and can, for example, tell the bearers if someone is looking at them or where the ball they dropped is in the room. But it is also possible to combine different sensors in the smart textile. Each sensor can address different perceptive channels, which enlarges the communication space.
Nils-Krister Persson, docent and research leader of Smart Textiles at the University of Borås:
“Smart textiles are perfect to use when we develop the interface, as our body is constantly in contact with textiles. It’s more or less just in the shower that it isn’t.”
Another important aspect of the HIPI is gamification. Playful elements will be integrated into the system to achieve a more entertaining and enjoyable learning situation for the bearer.
Although the SUITCEYES prototype will be developed specifically for users with deafblindness, the application area of the prototype is not limited to this group. A system that affords improved perception of the surrounding environment, and allows an alternative (haptic) mode of communication can scale to multiple other application areas. There are many circumstances where a user lacks full reliance on the visual and auditory senses such as firefighting in smoke-filled rooms, rescue missions in dark and noisy environments, sports training and more. Haptic communication would be a reliable and useful complement and/or alternative in all such situations.
The project outcome is not limited to a technological solution, it also includes user and policy studies that in turn will improve our understanding of the needs of people with deafblindness and which will facilitate informed policies and decision making.
The project’s funding
SUITCEYES is a three-year long (2018-2020) Research and Innovation project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme, call “Information and Communication Technologies” under topic “ICT-23-2017: Interfaces for accessibility”, and grant agreement number 780814.