Research Workshops

To develop and test concepts, innovative strategies and technologies that holistically address the challenges people with audiovisual impairments face in a post-COVID-19 world, we conduct research workshops with deafblind participants.

Previous resarch has shown that the sense of touch is crucial for spatial understanding and navigating the world in absence of visual perception. People who are audiovisually impaired need ‘visual mental imagery’, an internal representation and memory of objects and events unfolding in the world around them. This is significant for them to understand and identify explicit shapes, spatial relations and other people’s behaviour.

In our research workshops, we apply participatory observation techniques to gather detailed information on the impact of touch deprivation during COVID-19 on this type of ‘visual mental imagery’ of the deafblind. We also track consequent experiences of space, memory and social interactions. This data is used to develop of a haptic-audiovisual tool that may be used by people with audiovisual impairments to help them navigate their world.

Research Workshop #1: 10 June 2021

Creative Exploration with Clay

Azadeh Emadi lead our participant Issy McGrath in a creative workshop that used clay to explore the relationship between imagination, spatial mapping and expression. Through the material of clay, the workshop encouraged Issy to use her sense of touch to express her understanding of the world around her, her mental images of the world and her way of negotiating her movements within it.

Video recording from workshop
Technology Testing: Haptic Radar

In our first technology workshop, we tested the wearable ‘haptics radar’ device we have been developing. The devise is a small-form radar device that is able to detect the position of people within a scene. It then feeds this information back, via bluetooth to a wearable hat. The hat provides small vibrations that are felt along the brim. This allows a deaf-blind person to correctly locate the presence and postion of a person in front of them.

The hat is combined with a forearm device that determines the distance between the wearer and an object in their immediate surroundings. Like the haptic hat, the forearm device communicates via vibrations.

Video recording from workshop

Research Workshop #2: 19 August 2021

Spatial explorations through Drawing

Azadeh Emadi and Mitch Miller met our participant John Whitfield to explore the topic of spatial experience through drawing. John offered his insights into the way he understands and navigates different environments while drawing maps of different spaces. His detailed sketches mapped out key components and spatial markers such as light sources, obstacles and surfaces to reveal a complex network of cues that are navigated with all available senses.

Map of the workshop space drawn in red and blue felt-tip pen offering a view of the space with different objects and people.
A map of the workshop space drawn by our participant John Whitfield.
John draws his journey through the university building.
Technology Testing: Haptic Radar

Following on from our first workshop, the team tested the newest prototype of our wearable ‘haptic radar’ device. In its improved form, the hat is now able to provide the wearer information about both the distance and the direction of an object in their environment without the need to wear to separate pieces of equipment.

Like before, the direction of an object or person is indicated to the wearer through a set of vibration motors that are spaced out along the hat’s brim. The distance between the object and the wearer is communicated via the strength of the vibration. So an object that is close by will elicit a more powerful vibration than one further away.

Research Workshop #3: 28 October 2021

Technology Testing: Haptic Radar

In our final workshop, we invited our previous participants Issy McGrath and John Whitfield back to test the most advanced prototype of our wearable ‘haptic radar’ device. The equipment now takes the form of a baseball cap with built-in vibration monitors that are able to communicate the position of an object in space to the wearer.

In addition to changing to a more convenient and more familiar form, improvements were also made to the technical design. The number of vibration monitors in the brim of the cap were reduce from six to five. This makes it easier to determine when an object is right in front of a wearer.

Our participant Issy McGrath tracks the movement of a person with the haptic cap.
Data visualisation of the spatial experienced while wearing the haptic hat.