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Tactile photographs: ‘Seeing’ by touching

Posted on June 14, 2013
Boaxin Li’s computer-generated, two-dimensional images enable people with visual impairments to identify individuals by their facial contours. Li is an associate professor of computer science at Arizona State University. Credit: Rosie Gochnour/ASU

Boaxin Li’s computer-generated, two-dimensional images enable people with visual impairments to identify individuals by their facial contours. Li is an associate professor of computer science at Arizona State University. Credit: Rosie Gochnour/ASU

Arizona State University computer scientist Baoxin Li is demonstrating the artistic side of his technical field by creating computer-generated tactile photographs for people living with visual impairment.

 

His “tactile photographs,” printed on special heat-sensitive paper, are portraits made with raised grooves and contours that enable someone with a visual impairment to get a general idea of the details of an individual’s face by touching the images.

Li is an associate professor in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He came up with the idea for the tactile photographs when he began working with a coworker who is blind.

“I thought that this technology could be useful to workers with visual impairments who might want to get to know the people in their offices a little better,” he says.

With his coworker in mind, Li developed computer software capable of automatically creating a simplification of a printed image such as a photograph, or even a simple webcam image. The software extracts basic facial features, contours and outlines to create the image.

Surveys of individuals with blindness were conducted to find out what contours were most effective and which were distracting or confusing when people touched them.

Aside from the practical benefits of producing tactile photographs, they have become an artistic pursuit for Li. Earlier this year he teamed up with photographer Kristel Puente from San Antonio, Texas when he was asked to create 11 tactile photographs for an art show at the ZaZa Garden Gallery in San Antonio.

Read more at: Phys.org

 

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