by Mike Rosen
From the Editor: Mike Rosen is the coordinator of design education in the School of Engineering at the University of Vermont. In the brief article below he describes a research project that we will see more of at the convention this summer. This is what he says:
With funding from the National Federation of the Blind, a team of three engineering students at the University of Vermont is developing an improved system for raised line drawing, one which provides means for erasing and digitizing. This new product is intended for use by blind engineers, architects, artists, students, teachers, and others who need to communicate graphically with their blind and sighted peers and pupils. The context for this work is the two-semester Senior Experience in Engineering Design (SEED), the capstone project course taught jointly to electrical and mechanical engineering students. Each of the fifteen student teams in the course takes on a real-world problem, typically in partnership with a company or a user community. At design night, at the end of the spring term, all teams present their working prototypes to an audience of faculty, outside partners, fellow students, invited guests, and the public.
The students comprising the Tactile Sketchpad team are Andrew Haas (ME), Jon Paquette (EE), and Jacob Flanigan (EE). Their advisors include Al Maneki, a blind mathematician retired from the NSA, and Jean Haverstick from the UVM ACCESS program, which assists students with special needs. The faculty mentors are Mike Coleman, senior lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering Program, and Mike Rosen, coordinator of design education for the School of Engineering and SEED principal instructor/developer. Mark Riccobono, director of the Jernigan Institute, is the team’s contact collaborator at the NFB.
The final design configuration is a stylus-and-cellophane clipboard-based system, recognizably like current commercial products. The new features include a thermal eraser that allows the user to flatten previously scribed lines by local application of heat. In addition, given the availability of inexpensive tablet digitizers, the team expects to incorporate digitizing so that the device will be able to upload files of user drawings to a computer, from which they can be disseminated to remote colleagues by the Internet.
The team’s engineering efforts are currently focused in three areas:
Potential users have been recruited through the NFB, personal contacts, and Vermont organizations of blind people to undertake pilot evaluations of mockups and prototypes. Their reactions and objective drawing performance will provide the guidance the design team needs in order to converge on a product that is useful and appealing to its intended market.The Tactile Sketchpad design team will take part in the upcoming NFB convention in Detroit. The team will describe, display, and demonstrate the new tool in a number of meetings and settings. They are particularly anxious to give potential users of the new product opportunities to try out and evaluate the alternative designs.