How to Learn Braille Without Even Trying

Jonathan Strickland


As a graduate of the University of Georgia, it's very hard for me to admit when the folks at Georgia Tech do something amazing (which happens far too frequently). Anyone who doesn't understand what that means needs to look into clean, old-fashioned hate. The cool thing Tech researchers have done recently is use special gloves to teach people how to write and read in Braille without them even concentrating on it!

This blows my mind. The subjects were able to pick up the basics of Braille by wearing special gloves that had haptic feedback electronics in the knuckles. Basically, that means the gloves would create a light buzzing sensation with vibrating motors.

The researchers at Tech were looking at what's called passive haptic learning -- picking up new motor skills through physical stimuli without actively trying to learn those skills. And they really used a clever way to keep the subjects occupied -- the subjects played games. While playing, the test subjects' gloves would vibrate in a sequence mapped to specific letters in a phrase written in Braille. An audio cue told the subjects which letter corresponded with each sequence. The sequence was repeated a few times.

After wearing the gloves for 30 minutes, the subjects were told to type out the phrase in Braille. The subjects had been tested earlier before putting on the gloves. The results showed that wearing the passive haptic learning gloves resulted in a 30% increase in accuracy, with some of the subjects able to type out the phrase perfectly. A control group that didn't receive the sequence of vibrations (but did get the audio cues) showed no significant improvement.

On top of that, the people who wore the gloves demonstrated an ability to read in Braille. They were able to recognize more than 70 percent of the letters in the phrase. None of the subjects in the study had previous experience with Braille.

What does this mean? Maybe we'll see passive haptic feedback systems used to transfer knowledge for some motor skills. It probably won't be an ideal educational method for all skills but it could help people learn to perform certain types of tasks more efficiently (and without all that brow-furrowing studying).

Personally, I'm in favor of learning without even being aware of it. Sign me up (even if it's at Georgia Tech)!