by Marie Babel and Claudio Pacchierotti (Univ Rennes, CNRS, Inria, IRISA)

While technology helps people to compensate for a broad set of mobility impairments, visual perception and/or cognitive deficiencies still significantly affect their ability to move safely and easily. DORNELL proposes an innovative multisensory, multimodal, smart haptic handle that can be easily plugged onto a wide range of mobility aids. Specifically fabricated to fit the needs of a person, it provides a wide set of ungrounded tactile sensations in a portable and plug-and-play format – delivering haptics in assistive technologies. DORNELL is co-designed with users and therapists, ensuring that it meets their expectations and needs.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 110 to 190 million adults experience significant mobility difficulties, often resulting from visual, orthopaedic or neurological disabilities. Mobility aids such as white canes, precanes, wheelchairs, or walkers are widely used to overcome these mobility limitations. But owing to visual or cognitive impairments, many people are unable to safely use such aids. Navigation assistance can help in these situations, enabling a larger set of people with disabilities to move autonomously. While navigation assistance can sometimes be enforced by directly controlling the mobility aid (e.g. wheelchair) in assist-as-needed (shared control) or autonomous ways, research has shown that it is more empowering for individuals to be able to do a task autonomously rather than having a machine do it for you.

To achieve effective navigation while leaving users in control of their motion, we wish to implement a solution based on multimodal ungrounded (tactile) haptic feedback. Unlike standard kinesthetic haptics, ungrounded haptic feedback can provide rich and diverse information while leaving users free to move as they wish [1]. Coupled with proper sensing and understanding of the environment, this solution provides a new and promising approach to enhance the mobility of many users. In other words, DORNELL will enrich the perception and understanding of the user in order to compensate for one or more deficiencies.

To cater for users’ goals and needs, our aim is to enhance the mobility capacity of people with disabilities by defining a generic haptic interface in the form of a shapeable, multimodal haptic handle that can be adapted to both user needs and the mobility aid (Figure 1). Our objective is to provide a truly useful and effective device to improve the self-esteem and autonomy of people with disabilities, making a positive change in their lives. To foster the acceptance of the proposed solution and prevent any mismatch between the users’ expectations and the final design, we follow a pragmatic and iterative process that includes clinicians and users at each stage. Regular clinical trials allow us to validate any successive development of the proposed device, leading to the continuous integration of the different hardware and software components. We envisage different and progressive evaluation scenarios of assisted indoor navigation, ranging from collision avoidance to long-term navigation, in clinical structures and in public spaces such as metro and train stations, with various inclusion criteria in terms of participants’ specific challenges, ages, and genders.

Figure 1: Four envisaged applications for the proposed handle (shown in red): white cane, precane, power wheelchair, and walker. DORNELL will provide multiple haptic sensations to convey feedback about the surrounding environment, e.g., path to follow, presence of obstacles, retrieving information from internal and external sensors, e.g., ultrasonic sensors mounted on a power wheelchair. Its functions will be easy to customize for each person and diverse mobility aid solutions.

Figure 1: Four envisaged applications for the proposed handle (shown in red): white cane, precane, power wheelchair, and walker. DORNELL will provide multiple haptic sensations to convey feedback about the surrounding environment, e.g., the path to follow, presence of obstacles, retrieving information from internal and external sensors, e.g., ultrasonic sensors mounted on a power wheelchair. Its functions will be easy to customise for each person and diverse mobility aid solutions.

DORNELL revolves around six grand objectives:

  • to define a series of guidelines and requirements for the design and acceptance of haptic-enabled devices, directly interacting with people with disabilities and healthcare professionals through subjective questionnaires and human subject studies;
  • to design and fabricate a multimodal, multisensory, ergonomic, soft, compact, portable, customisable handle that provides multiple haptic sensations as well as sensing how the user interacts with it. We make use of innovative shapeable materials, 3D/4D printing techniques [2], multimodal actuation technologies, and perceptual illusions to deliver complex yet intuitive haptic sensations. Sensors embedded in the handle register inputs and intentions of the user which are used to control the assistive device. Our design is planned to be parametric and customisable, so that it can be adapted to a user’s individual needs before fabrication, as well as to the target mobility device;
  • to develop versatile and modular APIs and interaction techniques to achieve compelling interactions with the device, from simple information delivery through to complex exploration and navigation tasks. We employ performant, standard, and template-based programming solutions to guarantee high control loop rates as well as to ease the use and customisation of the developed interactions to different user wishes, capabilities, and mobility aids [3]. We will study how to best interact with the handle in a way that the provided information is perceived as intuitive and requires little training to understand;
  • to define methodologies for evaluating the performance of the system and the medical condition of the users in clinical trials, evaluating the proposed interaction techniques, human-machine interactions, as well as social acceptance;
  • to improve the performance of complex tasks when using the proposed haptic handle coupled with white canes, precanes, power wheelchairs, and walkers with respect to using other commercially available solutions. We want to test our device with users with different types and levels of disability, evaluating both objective metrics, such as the performance in navigating in an unknown environment and avoiding obstacles, and subjective metrics, such as user’s comfort, acceptance, and ease of use.
  • to disseminate the results of the project to the public and stakeholders and to consider business opportunities and technology transfer. We plan to take next-generation mobility aids to the market to improve the lives of millions of people affected by disabilities.

DORNELL is a collaborative effort between research teams at Inria Rennes Bretagne Atlantique (coordinator), Inria Nancy, Inria Bordeaux, LGCGM laboratory (Rennes), Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique (ISIR, Paris), Institut des jeunes aveugles – Les Charmettes (Yzeure), and rehabilitation center Pôle Saint Hélier (Rennes).

Link:
[L1]: https://project.inria.fr/dornell/

References:
[1] L. Devigne, et al.: “Power wheelchair navigation assistance using wearable vibrotactile haptics”, IEEE Transactions on Haptics (ToH), 13.1 (2020): 52-58.
[2] J. Etienne, et al.: “Slightly curved slicing for 3-axis printers”;  ACM Trans. Graph. (TOG) 38.4 (2019): 1-11.
[3] X. de Tinguy, et al.: “WeATaViX: WEarable Actuated TAngibles forVIrtual reality eXperiences”, International Conference on Human Haptic Sensing and Touch Enabled Computer Applications (pp. 262-270), 2020.

Please contact:
Marie Babel
Univ Rennes, INSA Rennes, CNRS, INRIA, IRISA-UMR6074, France.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Claudio Pacchierotti
Univ Rennes, CNRS, INRIA, IRISA-UMR6074, France.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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