The last time I got excited about a wearable for accessibility it was Dot—a Braille smartwatch. However, thanks to a lead from Wired UK I’ve got a new project to appreciate, Ontenna, a vibrating hairclip. Haptic devices can be helpful for notifications, but some deaf people find them a bit overwhelming on a wristband or clothing. That’s why Fujitsu has embraced the hairclip, which actually got its start a few years ago according to the company.
A prototype of Ontenna was first shown in 2016, though the technology started as a university research project by current Fujitsu user interface designer Tatuya Honda.
There’s some biomimicry going on here with the hairclip sending vibrations through hair, much like whiskers on a cat. Currently the model can create vibrations based on intervals of sound, but the hope is to develop a product that can differentiate tones. The idea is simple, but it could add a lot of value to someone who is deaf. Imagine events happening behind you that you are unaware of, but suddenly through some minor buzzing you realize there is a reason to look. Not only is it handy, but it may add safety.
One of the things that stands out on the company’s site is the detail given on the first prototype—it was an Arduino. You know I’m a lover of microcontrollers, so I was psyched that they were willing to share the origins of the product. How many Arduinos grow up to be custom wearable tech devices? How many finished products remain Arduino? Where is the survey for this info? Anyway, the point is that Arduino is a great prototyping tool.
I’m definitely going to follow this project, which is close to completion, and I hope you will check out the details on Wired UK. If you have an urge to make your own haptic device, you should start with our Buzzing Mindfulness Bracelet learning guide. A simple buzz at your wrist can remind you to take a break, meditate or just be in the moment; it all happens with our GEMMA microcontroller. Have fun making and let us know if you are working on a project that helps accessibility.
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