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5 innovations in access technology

Posted By: Ross Murray

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On 10th September the eCom team attended Techshare Europe 2015 at the Glasgow Science Centre to support our client RNIB Learning Choices.  Techshare is Europe’s premier accessible technology conference, hosted by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), with delegates from education, health and social care and product development.

I attended a number of presentations on the amazing advancements in wearable technology, with everything from glasses to smart shoes. Here are my top 5 innovations of the day:

1 - Oxford SmartSpecs (VA-ST)

The Oxford SmartSpecs are the result of an ongoing research project lead by Dr Stephen L. Hicks, research fellow in Neuroscience and Visual Prosthetics at the University of Oxford. The project aims to improve the independence of people with visual impairment by helping them to make the most of their remaining vision.

The glasses use LED lights to create a simplified image of the environment. Objects close to the person are represented using bright light, whereas objects far away are black, showing the areas which are clear around the user and where they can safely walk.

The project recently gained funding from Google and Dr Hicks and his team are working to make the glasses smaller, more comfortable, and more transparent to better resemble normal glasses.  For more information click here.

2 – Audio Bracelet for Blind Interaction (ABBI)

Audio Bracelet for Blind Interaction (ABBI) comes from a University of Glasgow team led by Stephen Brewster, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction.  

ABBI uses sound to provide context on movement, posture, motor coordination, to help blind and partially sighted children with spatial cognition, mobility and social skills. The bracelet will help wearers become more aware of their surroundings and of others and ultimately encourage inclusion.

The team also talked about alternatives to sound for expressing social cues, such as a clever use of Microsoft’s Kinect Sensor to detect emotions and relay that information using thermal feedback. For example warm feedback could mean someone is smiling, whereas cold might mean frowning.

More information on the ABBI project can be found here.


BLITAB are an Austria based start-up which have created a tablet which revolutionises brail displays. Typically, a braille display can only display 1 line of braille text, with no way to display graphics. Dubbed the world’s first tactile tablet, BLITAB can show an entire page of braille using small bubbles, which is refreshable. The tablet can display a variety of content including maps, webpages, text and images.

The device, currently in prototype, is relatively low cost in comparison to other braille readers and will lower the entry point for this exciting access technology. For more information about BLITAB visit the BLITAB website.

4 – Lechal Smartshoes

India’s first wearable technology company, Ducere Technologies, have created Lechal, the world’s first smartshoes featuring haptic feedback.

The idea came from the need for an affordable navigation tool which could work in India’s noisy streets. Audible feedback isn’t the best solution as the noise pollution makes it difficult to follow directions, and guide dogs are expensive.

The shoes sync with Google Maps on a smartphone and help the user to navigate via the use of haptic feedback. The user simply receives a haptic alert in either the left or right shoe depending on which direction they need to take.

As well as providing directions, the shoes can also be used for fitness tracking with the app counting calories burned and distance travelled. For more information on the Lechal Smartshoes visit

5 – RNIB Learning Choices

How could I not finish without highlighting our own innovations with RNIB Learning Choices? The Learning Choices team from RNIB were exhibiting their exciting new online learning platform developed in conjunction with us here at eCom.

eCom and RNIB worked together to create a bespoke learning management system (LMS) and series of accessible eLearning courses. The project uses the latest web accessibility standards to ensure the system is easy to use for blind and partially sighted people on a variety of devices ensuring the learning is available to everyone. To read more about our work with RNIB, check out our case study.

Final thoughts

Techshare 2015 provided a fascinating insight to some of the best innovations in access technology. 2015 really is the year of the wearable, and haptic feedback is playing a huge part in those innovations as a new way to provide alerts and information. Here at eCom, it’s left us wondering – How can we use haptic feedback and alerts for mobile learning to provide a more visceral experience?

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