New electronic sleeve helps visually and audibly impaired communicate

Purdue University is developing a sleeve that sends messages through skin contact.

Posted: Jul. 2, 2018 10:52 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — The Purdue College of Engineering is developing a new technology that could help anyone without sight or hearing abilities. 

Katie Ceglio has been putting on a sleeve that can communicate without sight or sound.

"There's different vibrations for different phonemes so there's different sounds that make up a word," said Ceglio. 

After learning a series of vibratons, she now needs no verbal cues to repeat a word.

"I came in once a day for two weeks to learn all you said 39 phonemes," said Ceglio. "So practice with just a couple each day and get used to those and then add on more the next day."

The sleeve was developed by a research team in Purdue's Electrical Engineering Department. Headed by professor Hong Tan, the technology has been decades in the making.

"This was like 30 years later technology is a lot better so we just jumped at the opportunity," said Tan. 

Professor Tan has been researching technology for decades to help those who can't see or hear. The setting could be in the classroom or elsewhere, Tan said she's thought of many examples.

"We talk about firefighters, if it's really noisy and foggy, and it's hard to communicate skin surfaces and other channels," said Tan. 

She said receiving information without the distraction of a phone or other device can be invaluable.

"So basically any situation where I call if you are situationally deaf or blind," said Tan. 

Above all else, Tan hopes the new technology becomes one thing in the future: Normal.

"Someday it'll just be second nature for people to walk around with clothing on their body that actually does double duty," said Tan. 

The Purdue research team is partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Facebook on the project.

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