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Hands-on VR experience helps the blind ‘see’ art through touch

By Graham Wall | 03/04/18 19:15

A common rule when visiting a gallery or museum, ‘no touching’, is supposed to teach us to respect and appreciate art from a distance.

While it prevents any damage or breakages, this rule teaches us to enjoy art with our eyes, not our hands.

For small children, it’s mightily frustrating. For the blind and visually impaired it’s impossible to enjoy art at all without the use of their other senses.

Cutting the red tape (or rope), the National Gallery of Prague has addressed this with a unique art experience for the blind called Touching Masterpieces.Touching Masterpieces 1

Developed in collaboration with the Leontinka Foundation, the campaign allows visually impaired people to touch iconic sculptures in a virtual reality space. Though rather than the usual headset, the experience is delivered through special haptic Avatar glove technology.

Touching Masterpieces 2

With their hand inside a special glove, participants are transported into a virtual zone where they can feel and familiarise themselves with historic sculptures including Michelangelo’s David, the bust of Nefertiti, and Venus de Milo.

The remarkable glove controls realistic hands in a virtual space. When the virtual hand comes into contact with and identifies one of the 3D objects, their sense of depth and texture is sent in the form of vibrations. Multi-frequency technology can stimulate different types of skin cells’ tactile responses, giving the blind a detailed “sense” of the object they’re touching.

Touching Masterpieces 3

Custom-built, the glove is said to give a blind person the most enriching and accurate perception of the 3D object.

The immersive technology opens doors to a whole new set of possibilities for the visually impaired. Barbara Hucková, executive director of the Leontinka Foundation, says: “Blind children are usually taught in school with relief aids and tactile pictures that far from accurately reflect reality. This new technology is an incredible breakthrough allowing pupils to touch what was absolutely unattainable before.”

Innovations in interactive technology are transforming the way that consumers interact with and relate to brands; giving people access to brand new experiences and bringing them to life in a truly memorable fashion.

When the new Ghost Busters film was released, Madame Taussaud’s celebrated with a thoroughly immersive Ghostbusters Experience – a multi-layered and sensory tour with virtual reality at its heart. Film fans were also delighted when they were transported into dystopian future from the new Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One with a mighty VR installation at SXSW.

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