While Google Glass never took off as a wearable in the real world, the prototype stuck around. Now, Google Glass’s creator has built another wearable that can speed up learning, teach Braille, and even bring back sensation to victims of spinal cord injuries.
Thad Starner, well-known proponents of wearables and the co-founder of the IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers, who worked with Google to create Glass product has built haptic learning gloves.
Haptic Learning Gloves
In conjunction with other researchers, he created a technology-enhanced glove that utilises a process known as passive haptic learning. This method allows people to acquire motor skills through vibrations without devoting attention to their hands. What this means is that the users can do whatever they wish to, while the glove teaches their hands motor techniques.
Among other things, the glove can teach beginners how to play piano melodies in 45 minutes, teach Braille to someone with no experience of the language, and bring back feeling in the hands of those who lost it due to injuries.
The gloves consist of a vibrating motor stitched into the knuckles, which then vibrate in a sequence that corresponds with what the user is attempting to learn. In the case of a piano melody, it provides feedback everytime the right key is pressed. The glove also provides feedback to the user to let them know which finger to play the next note with. Starner stated upon successful testing:
“Every once in a while, you have a project that comes along with relevance in two different domains. In this case, we have something very useful for learning the piano, but also may have applications for rehabilitation for people who have hand trauma or dexterity issues.”
In the case of teaching Braille, the vibrations corresponded with the typing pattern of a phrase. Audio cues let the users know Braille letters produced by typing that sequence. Upon use of the glove, participants could successfully recall 75% or more of the letters in the sequence.
Spinal Cord Injury Rehab using HLG
The wearable was tested for use by individuals with limited feeling and movement in their hands. These can be due to multiple factors, such as tetraplegia, spinal cord injury, or stroke. These individuals had sustained said injuries more than a year before the study, thus making it harder to find a solution. However, the glove worked.
When learning to play the piano, several of the group experienced sensation in their fingers. Tanya Markow, the Ph.D. graduate designated as the project’s leader, believed that positive symptoms would arise for the subjects. Moreover, she even described the experience that certain subjects had, where they could feel the texture of their bedsheets and clothes for the first time since their injury. This could open up a more in-depth view of the medical applications for the glove.
As a part of the study, the participants were also asked to wear the glove at home for two hours a day, five days a week. They were not playing the piano at that time, instead feeling only the vibration caused by the motors. This passive use of the glove helped the participants as well, enabling them to learn songs faster and retain them better.
Theories offered to explain this phenomenon may tie to renewed brain activity in the motor cortex of the brain. This is due to the dormancy that this area experiences after an SCI or similar phenomenon. Starner said, “[The glove] overcomes each of those challenges and provides surprising benefits for people with weakness and sensory loss due to SCI. It’s a great example of how wearable computing can change people’s lives.”
The glove, while not available as a commercial product, can be constructed fairly easily from cheap parts available online. Starner has also made the plan to construct them easily available, in hopes of helping someone regain their touch. Reportedly, all that is required to create the gloves are maker parts and a motor vibrator from a pager or a cellphone.
Starner further thought about the various applications of the gloves, such as dancing, throwing a baseball or for learning something such as sign language. This will also work for any kind of typing-esque motion that we can imagine, stated Starner. Even as this doesn’t mean that a magic glove can automatically do the learning process for humans, Thad stated that it could speed it up significantly.