Touch Typing Taught Haptically DIY-style

Can haptic gloves teach touch typing with less effort? David Schnieder gives it a try. Educate the muscles and nerves of the hands, and let your mind wander.


(Touch Typing Taught Haptically DIY-style video)

So while my wife was sewing eight diminutive vibration motors into the fingers of a pair of cycling gloves, I set about working on the hardware and software for a haptic typing tutor...

The first challenge was how to drive the 14-millimeter-diameter vibration motors I had purchased on eBay (US $13.85 for a set of 10, including shipping). I briefly considered using MOSFET transistors to drive the motors, but I decided to follow Starner’s example instead based on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle: He used Darlington transistor arrays for this purpose. So I used two ULN2003s, one for the four motors on each hand. These chips handle the job without fuss: Each 14-pin IC contains seven Darlington transistor pairs along with diodes to protect against voltage spikes when you switch off inductive loads such as motors. It was a simple matter to wire the inputs to these arrays to an Arduino Nano plugged into a prototyping board and connect the outputs to each glove with short lengths of Cat 5 cable.

I programmed the Arduino to activate a given motor for a quarter of a second corresponding to each character I sent to the microcontroller’s serial port—a “1” would vibrate the motor pressing on the left pinkie, a “2” for the left ring finger, a “3” for the left middle finger, and so forth. That was dead simple. The tougher job was to write a program that would run on a laptop computer so that my kids would associate the stimulation of their fingers with the correct sequence of keystrokes you make when touch-typing a word.

For that, I used Tkinter, which provides an easy way to create a graphical user interface with Python, my favorite computer language at the moment...

It's not quite the same thing, but I think that Robert Heinlein had the basic idea right in his 1942 novella Waldo how Waldo F. Jones taught machinists using waldoes - tele operated gloves:

'Now.. . your name, please?'
'Alexander Jenkins.'
'Very well, friend Alec - the gloves.' Jenkins thrust his arms into the waldoes and waited. Waldo put his arms into the primary pair before him; all three pairs, including the secondary pair mounted before the machine, came to life. Jenkins bit his lip, as if he found unpleasant the sensation of having his fingers manipulated by the gauntlets he wore.
Waldo flexed and extended his fingers gently; the two pairs of waldoes in the screen followed in exact, simultaneous paral-lelism.
'Feel it, my dear Alec,' Waldo advised. 'Gently, gently the sensitive touch. Make your muscles work for you.'
He then started hand movements of definite pattern; the waldoes at the power tool reached up, switched on the power, and began gently, gracefully, to continue the machining of the casting.

Read more about this very cool DIY project on IEEE Spectrum.

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