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David Schwarte, an assistive technology specialist on the Innovative Learning Team at Purdue University, knows what it is like to learn in a classroom when challenged with a visual impairment.
Schwarte, who has a visual impairment, says it is nearly impossible to understand what a professor is talking about when teaching from a PowerPoint on a large screen. To understand what is happening, the student has to depend on either an audio description or a 3D-printed mockup of the image on screen.
Now a new device designed by HaptImage LLC, a Purdue-affiliated startup, is assisting students of all ages with visual impairments to “see” and learn about what is on the screen.
“There are many areas in science, engineering and technology where the end-user needs to visualize a bunch of different graphics,” Schwarte said when he used the HaptImage device. “This system has the advantage of helping people visualize the graphics more instantly. HaptImage’s technology is important because students can come into a very technical field and still be able to succeed.”
These students are not alone. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 1.3 billion people living with some form of visual impairment across the globe. HaptImage has a better alternative: an image-accessing system with novel haptic capabilities. A video about the device is available here.
Ting Zhang, a doctoral student in the School of Industrial Engineering, created the system with her co-advisors, Juan Wachs, a professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and Bradley Duerstock, a professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
She was inspired by a colleague who voiced difficulty in seeing blood smear slides during lab. He often needed a partner and didn’t feel independent.
Zhang co-founded HaptImage with Shruthi Suresh, a doctoral student in Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, in order to commercialize the technology which helps individuals with blindness or visual impairments study images related to science, technology, engineering and mathematic topics in real time.