|The aims of the ENORASI project was to develop a highly interactive and extensible haptic virtual reality (VR) system that allows visually impaired people, especially those blind from birth, to study and interact with various virtual objects. ENORASI not only introduces techniques for the training of blind people based on their haptic interaction with virtual objects, but also provides case studies for their training through interaction, manipulation and modification of objects of complex shapes.
The main objective of the project was to develop a complete training system for the blind based on haptic VR techniques. The challenging aspect of the proposed VR system was that of addressing realistic virtual representation without any visual information. An immersive haptic virtual environment (VE) was created, simulating the real world guiding them through all the phases of the training procedure. The training system was oriented towards:
1- Recognising objects that are likely to be met in real life in their home, outdoor or working environment.
2. Recognising complex virtual objects (not easily accessible in their real life, such as complex buildings, airplanes, famous archaeological objects, mountains, 3D maps, wild animals, etc.) with special attention to people that are born blind and therefore have no visual clue of the object shape.
3. Interacting with virtual objects and understanding their physical characteristics (smoothness of surface, complexity of shape, constituting elements of multipart objects, etc.)
Facilitating the participation of the visually impaired users in an educational or entertainment environment (such as learning through query on the shape of the objects, participation in virtual art activities with the guidance of virtual guides, etc.).
4. Navigation into complex VEs based on haptic information and guidance from virtual guides implemented with the VR agents (use haptic information as a tool to aim navigation into virtual rooms, crowded streets, etc.).
Objects from large multimedia databases such as 3D encyclopaedias were used for training. 3D environmental sound was used as an additional clue for navigation into complex environments, and surface texture was simulated by the haptic VR device, in order to enhance the understanding of each specific object. In regard to the hardware requirements of the system, these are limited to an off-the-shelf force feedback haptic device; and asvisual information was not required at all, only sound and tactile feedback was incorporated in the whole system.
Another objective of the project was the provision of virtual reality training cases for blind, based on their immersion into highly interactive rule-based virtual worlds. This allows the application of emerging technological innovations into traditional training procedures and the establishment of novel methods and practices for easier and more successful rehabilitation of functionally impaired humans. Intelligent virtual guides (agents) were also developed, interacting with the user and guiding him for enhancing the perception of the virtual objects.
The definition of the functional specifications of ENORASI was driven by an analysis of the needs of real world users participating in the project as partners. These partners did also test and validate the outcomes of ENORASI; The evaluation phase provided valuable information for the dissemination and the future exploitation of the product.
The results of the project were disseminated through the establishment of demonstration sites, the organisation of an international conference on Haptics in Virtual Environments, presentations at international key events, and the publication of a white paper. Finally, a European Economic Interest Group (EEIG) was established by the ENORASI consortium for the exploitation and marketing of the outcomes of the project world-wide.
The ENORASI project introduces completely innovative non-visual virtual reality techniques that will help training blind people into feeling, understanding and interacting with virtual objects.