Tablet computers for the visually impaired
Credit: Photo: Markus Breig/KIT
The engineer Prof. Dr. Bastian E. Rapp of the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg receives a European Research Council Consolidator Grant of two million euros for his research on concepts for tactile displays for the blind and the visually impaired. Rapp and his research team are developing new concept of setting up these kinds of devices. The ERC Grant, which Rapp applied for during his time at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), is among the most sought-after prizes for European researchers.
Regular screens show information using tiny points of light, the pixels. In tactile displays, the pixels are replaced by tangible dots rising out of the surface – known as taxels. They are small pins which are moved mechanically representing the dots which can be read hapitcally.
However, tactile display technology is far less developed and far more expensive than visual screens sighted people. This is primarily because of the relatively complex production of such systems and the relatively small amount of novel concepts in recent decades. Currently, the systems with the highest resolutions costs nearly 50,000 euros and offer only very limited resolution. In fact, the best resolution is only a fraction of the number of pixels on an early-90’s Nintendo Gameboy.
Rapp plans to use the ERC Grant to develop concepts for taxels which will make them far cheaper and thus pave the way to portable systems. In his work, he is collaborating with the Study Centre for the Visually Impaired at KIT allowing development the systems in close feedback with potential users.
Rapp studied engineering at the University of Karlsruhe and in 2008 completed his doctorate there on the development of a biosensor system for biomedical diagnostics. In 2017 he finished his habilitation with the publication of a textbook on fluid mechanics in microfluidic systems. More recently, he was a group leader at KIT’s Institute of Microstructure Technology. In November 2018 he was appointed Professor of Process Technology at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg. He is also a co-founder and chief executive officer of Glassomer GmbH, a company which develops high-resolution 3D printing technologies for glass. For his work he was award several prizes and awards including the General Electric (GE) Foundation’s Edison Award, the VDE Institute’s GMM Prize, and the sponsorship award of the employers’ association Südwestmetall.
Prof. Dr. Bastian E. Rapp