Foto: Rien Boonstoppel

Student team HART has developed a wearable device in the form of a smart sleeve that can convert text – in any language – into vibrations. Through these vibrations, it is possible to understand any foreign language. (Innovation Origins reported) The team presents the innovative application tomorrow to a number of fellow students on the campus of the Eindhoven University of Technology.

As far as we know, this is the first time that a sleeve with vibrating motors is used to communicate. The students have developed a ‘vibratory language’ based on the 39 different sounds of the English language.

How does the application work? A computer programme converts written text into English and then into sound units, which in turn are converted into vibrations. Each sound has its own vibration. The vibrations that a user feels on his or her arm through the sleeve, together form words and sentences.

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Learning to interpret

Team member Lisa Overdevest (Industrial Engineering student) learned to interpret the self-designed vibration language in one month by practising for an hour every two days. As a result, she is now able to understand someone through vibrations; she can therefore communicate with people literally by feeling. HART hopes that this will enable people to perceive all languages in the same way in a non-invasive way, so that there will be more understanding for each other.

The student team – consisting of 17 students from different faculties – worked on the production of the sleeve for a year and wants to further develop the innovative application in the future. Currently, users can feel and understand written language, but according to HART, in the near future it should be possible to convert spoken language directly into vibrations. For this, artificial intelligence (AI) must be integrated into the design. This is what HART is now working on. In addition, the team wants to build the vibration equipment directly into clothing.

If the HART team succeeds in converting spoken language into vibrations, this will be good news for deaf people. They will then be able to converse with someone by feeling, without having to have the conversation partner in sight, which is the case with lip reading or sign language. Moreover, when a deaf person has mastered the vibratory language, he or she could easily communicate with anyone, regardless of whether the other person is proficient in sign language or not. Simply talking would then be sufficient.

Human augmentation

Ultimately, the student team wants to create new human senses or improve existing ones, which is the essence of human augmentation. In this case, it is speech, but images or smells are also possible in the future. The big goal is to create an online platform where people can download new senses. For example, to use a smartphone in a completely new way.

“Now we only control our mobile phone with our fingertips. Imagine being able to use other parts of your body to take in information more easily, for example through vibrations on your skin. The possibilities are endless,” explains Mariia Turchina, the founder of the student team. She got her inspiration from films in which superheroes with superhuman abilities play the leading role.

These possibilities are endless, she says, because the brain itself does not hear, see or feel anything, but only receives electrochemical signals. “When someone learns a new language, it doesn’t matter where the signals come from. They can be signals from your ears or eyes, but also these vibrations. That doesn’t matter to the brain and therefore ensures that people can learn a language by feeling.”

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