Singapore designers create lights for the deaf and rings for the blind

Updated 29th February 2016
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StickEar 1 lights
Singapore designers create lights for the deaf and rings for the blind
Written by Hilary Whiteman, CNNSingapore
Its inventors say it could be the next big thing for those hard of hearing -- a portable "ear" that sets off different colored lights, depending on the sound.
Someone knocks, the light turns green.
Someone yells, it flashes red.
The device is called StickEar and the team at Singaporean startup Embodied Sensing has launched a crowdfunding campaign to get the first ones made.
The models will be tested by a number of deaf organizations so that the design can be refined, with the hope that StickEar will become a viable commercial product.
"We've interviewed a lot of deaf people -- one of the most important things they wanted to know is if someone's knocking on the door," says Kian Peen, the co-founder of Embodied Sensing.
There are number of products on the market to alert the hard of hearing to the doorbell -- either by a very loud sound, lights or vibrations. But the team behind StickEar say the advantage of their device is that it's portable, and doesn't require potentially costly installation.
"When they travel, when they go to a hotel or even to their workplace, these sort of systems haven't been installed. So this is something portable that they can bring around with them," says Peen.
The StickEar sends signals to sensors that the company calls "lumies." "You can deploy multiple lumies in the house, one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom, one in the bedroom, and whenever the sensor gets triggered it hears a sound, the lumies start lighting up," Peen says.
StickEar is one of the devices developed at Singapore's Augmented Human Lab, at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
The Lab was established by Assistant Professor Suranga Nanayakkara, co-founder of Embodied Sensing, and a passionate advocate of new technologies that fit seamlessly into people's lives to make tasks easier -- or just more fun.

The ring that reads

For the blind, the team is developing the FingerReader, a ring that "reads" words aloud as you slide your finger along them.
"Your fingertip of your index finger is your cursor. And the word in front of your index finger is read back to you. If you're deviating from the line, it vibrates and gives you a signal to come back to the line," Nanayakkara says.
The FingerReader is not meant for reading large volumes of text, but small text fragments like name cards, menus and book titles on library shelves, he adds.
Like the lab's other projects, the FingerReader has other potential applications beyond its primary use. For example, it could be used by travelers to translate menus into a foreign language. Or perhaps, by children who haven't yet learned to read their favorite books.
It's also works with another program called FingerDraw, which allows the wearer to point at real-life objects and use the colors and texture of nature to draw onto a screen, for example, an iPad.

The gesture sensor

Another device currently being refined is the zSense, a ring that detects the wearer's thumb movements. Right now, the prototype is being used to control a simple video game, but the team hopes that one day it's built into smart wearable technology.
The idea was to dramatically reduce the number of sensors that detect movement into a tiny device with limited processing power. "It is not sophisticated -- the amount of gestures that it will detect is lower -- but it is still sufficient to get things done," says Anusha Withana, of the Augmented Human Lab.
The zSense detects small movements made by the wearer's thumb.
The zSense detects small movements made by the wearer's thumb. Credit: Hilary Whiteman/CNN
Withana says the device's three sensors can detect seven separate gestures, and the recognition rate is about 92% -- in line with industry standards.
That means in about 8% of instances the device gets confused, but that's the cost of shrinking the device to the extent that it can be embedded in a watchface, glasses or perhaps even a device that fits in your ear.
It's not there yet, but the team has been given a SMART Innovation grant to explore its commercial potential.