Feelif tech­nol­ogy: Feel­ing life un­der your fin­gers

Azer News - - Impact Journalism Day - By Maja Pri­jatelj Videmšek

MA vis­ually-im­paired child us­ing Feelif tech­nol­ogy Credit: Jure Eržen ia, an ele­men­tary school stu­dent at the IRIS Cen­tre for the Blind and Vis­ually Im­paired Youth, is slid­ing her fin­ger on the tablet screen cov­ered with a spe­cial grid. By fol­low­ing the vi­brat­ing points, she skill­fully de­tects the shape of a square on the screen. She then tries to solve the Mem­ory Game and is de­lighted each time she finds com­pat­i­ble plates with an­i­mal mo­tifs and is re­warded with ap­pro­pri­ate an­i­mal sounds. She is al­ready fa­mil­iar with the Feelif de­vice as she has tried it sev­eral times, and she is also con­tribut­ing to its de­vel­op­ment with her sug­ges­tions. This in­no­va­tion from 4WEB in Slove­nia will not only make her life eas­ier but can also im­prove the lives of mil­lions of other blind and vis­ually im­paired peo­ple around the world.

The blind and vis­ually im­paired can be very skill­ful at us­ing tablets and smart­phones with touch­screens. The ground­break­ing in­no­va­tion of the Feelif mul­ti­me­dia de­vice now en­ables them to feel the shapes of ob­jects on one-di­men­sional sur­faces too. Un­til now, the clos­est thing to this was a Braille graphic screen which dis­plays shapes with raised pins but it is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive: it costs around 50,000 euros. Only ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions for the blind and vis­ually im­paired are able to af­ford it.

Feelif is about a hun­dred times cheaper. Željko Kher­mayer, the in­ven­tor and founder of the dig­i­tal agency 4WEB, claims that this de­vice can open up new di­men­sions of us­ing in­for­ma­tion in a dig­i­tal for­mat, such as feel­ing shapes, mak­ing draw­ings, and us­ing in­ter­ac­tive sto­ries. This abil­ity may come nat­u­rally to those who can see but un­til now it was in­ac­ces­si­ble to the blind and vis­ually im­paired. A tool for learn­ing Braille and ge­om­e­try

Željko had the Feelif idea in 2013 while watch­ing a doc­u­men­tary on the deaf-blind com­mu­nity in Slove­nia. He was deeply touched by the fact that these peo­ple were de­prived of many ex­pe­ri­ences due to their loss of vi­sion, and they were also cut off from the rest of the world be­cause of the high costs of com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy. He de­cided to help.

Željko then started de­vel­op­ing in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy for the blind and vis­ually im­paired, like ap­ply­ing vi­bra­tions, sounds, and voices to help users iden­tify shapes dis­played on the tablet screen or which they drew them­selves. The small el­e­vated points on the grid al­low for bet­ter ori­en­ta­tion as the user slides his or her fin­gers on the screen.

The Feelif was de­vel­oped with the help of ele­men­tary school stu­dents and there­fore the con­tent is fo­cused on school sub­jects, says Kata­rina Pavšek, a mem­ber of the 4WEB team. The ap­pli­ca­tion will be very use­ful for learn­ing Braille and ge­o­met­ri­cal func­tions, and will en­able quicker learn­ing and in­de­pen­dent study­ing. 4WEB is also look­ing for ways to ap­ply the tech­nol­ogy to adults. They are test­ing a de­vice on the Slove­nian mar­ket and the first users will re­ceive it within a month.

As it is meant to be fun, the Feelif will also stim­u­late the learn­ing process. It is well-known that blind and vis­ually im­paired chil­dren of­ten have a hard time stay­ing at­ten­tive. “They need more en­cour­age­ment dur­ing their learn­ing process,” ex­plains Kata­rina. She adds that ex­ist­ing learn­ing meth­ods are still needed to help chil­dren get fine mo­tor skills.

10 year old Dam­jan who lost his sight due to an ill­ness was most ex­cited about be­ing able to draw. “If you draw with a pen­cil, you can not feel shapes with your fin­gers. With Feelif this has be­comes a pos­si­bil­ity. It's re­ally easy to learn how to use it,” says Dam­jan.

Mrs. Maja Korit­nik, mother of a vis­ually im­paired child re­marks, “Par­ents of blind and vis­ual im­paired kids see the ben­e­fit of Feelif’s work in a sim­ple and in­no­va­tive ap­proach; the source of the idea is a hon­est readi­ness to help oth­ers, and at the same time the idea is a re­flec­tion of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity Feelif’s team.” 88 mil­lion po­ten­tial users

The Feelif mul­ti­me­dia de­vice con­sists of a tablet, a re­lief grid placed over a screen, and an ap­pli­ca­tion which con­nects all these parts into an ex­pe­ri­ence that can be felt by the fin­gers of a blind per­son. It costs 500 euros. "When we are sure that the prod­uct is at an ex­cel­lent level, we will make it avail­able on the global mar­ket: first in Euro­pean coun­tries, and later in the USA," says Kata­rina. There are about 14 mil­lion po­ten­tial users of the de­vice in both mar­kets, and 88 mil­lion po­ten­tial users world­wide.

The com­pany is also de­vel­op­ing an open plat­form which will cre­ate a net­work of peo­ple linked to the blind and vis­ually im­paired: the blind and vis­ually im­paired them­selves, their par­ents, their teach­ers, and those who want to cre­ate ap­pro­pri­ate con­tent for them. This plat­form will fa­cil­i­tate the shar­ing or sell­ing of con­tent, which in turn could cre­ate new busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties for the blind and vis­ually im­paired, and their par­ents.

4WEB is search­ing for fund­ing to de­velop this open plat­form, but con­sid­er­ing their suc­cess as an in­no­va­tor, this shouldn’t be too hard. At this year’s Webit Europe Fes­ti­val in Sofia, Bul­garia, they were the sec­ond best in­no­va­tion among 2,425 startup com­pa­nies. 4WEB also won the Slove­nian com­pe­ti­tion of so­cial in­no­va­tions and was one of the five fi­nal­ists at the Podim con­fer­ence for startup com­pa­nies in the AlpeA­dria re­gion. The United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO) listed the Feelif de­vice is one of the 150 best in­no­va­tions in the world. Željko Kher­mayer, the founder and CEO of the com­pany, has also been named as one of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial in­no­va­tors in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe.

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