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Facebook Wearable Device Helps 'Feel' Words on Your Arm

People were able to learn 100 words with 90 percent accuracy after 100 minutes of training, and some learned 500 words after another 100 minutes, MIT Technology Review reported.

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Updated:April 19, 2018, 7:45 AM IST
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Facebook Wearable Device Helps 'Feel' Words on Your Arm
Facebook Wearable Device Helps 'Feel' Words on Your Arm (photo for representation, image: Reuters)
Facebook researchers have created a wearable device that taught people to feel words on their arms, causing vibrations in patterns that match up with certain sounds. People were able to learn 100 words with 90 percent accuracy after 100 minutes of training, and some learned 500 words after another 100 minutes, MIT Technology Review reported on Wednesday. The research could lead to devices that will help people "read" incoming smartphone messages by feeling them on their arms.

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The prototype of a cast-like wearable device is filled with actuators that, when triggered, cause vibrations on the arm. During the study, researchers were able to teach people to feel four different phonemes -- the individual sounds that makeup words in a language -- in three minutes. "Over more than an hour and a half of training, study participants were able to learn to recognise 100 words," said Ali Israr, the technical lead for the project.

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The project takes cues from Braille and Tadoma (a communication method for people who are both deaf and blind). The idea could lead to a smartwatch that delivers specific messages via vibrations, helping people with hearing and vision impairments get information more easily. This is how this device works. The prototype is connected to a computer that lets the wearer select different phonemes and sample words, which can then be felt as vibrations on the arm.

Different sounds are represented by sensations from different actuators on the top and bottom of the arm. Currently, it's limited to just four to 10 words per minute. The researchers are trying to speed up how quickly the device can transmit words to the arm. Facebook researchers will present their work later this month at the annual CHI conference on human-computer interaction in Montreal, Canada.

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