High unemployment rates amongst blind people are a serious social and economic problem for the EU. Their exclusion from the workforce leads to social isolation, which ultimately results in higher social support costs for society. Assistive technologies can help overcome these barriers. The EU-funded TACMON project developed an innovative and cost-effective touch screen technology that provides blind people with interactive access to both textual and graphically oriented electronic information. The system consists of three modules: a novel tactile actuator chip based on micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) technology, the driver electronics for the MEMS, including high-voltage electronics, and a pneumatic support system. In combination with conductive elastomer technologies, MEMS technology is critical for success. MEMS allows for a large matrix of tactile dots to be produced using low-cost electrochemical bath techniques. The pneumatic support system ensures the forces on the tactile dots are maintained. Software specifications for this module, which is a graphical application, were specified with the help of the HyperBraille project. TACMON's research was successfully completed with a small-scale functional prototype demonstrating the viability of both the actuator technology and the other technologies required. A start-up company holding the jointly-owned TACMON intellectual property rights has been established as a platform for the further development and market introduction of the project's technology. The current technology already offers a significant cost advantage compared to the state of the art. However, the consortium is eager to develop the technology, reduce costs and bring graphical tactile displays to the market at a price comparable to current Braille single line displays. This will help to create new opportunities for Europe's blind citizens.
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30 October 2020