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Royal Society awards Joseph Clarke School grant for innovative IT project.

Joseph Clarke School has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Royal Society for our project ‘How you can say where things are in space’ which uses a variety of technologies to let vision impaired students explore and create objects in three-dimensional virtual space.  The project is being undertaken in partnership with the ‘Knowledge Lab’ at the Institute of Education, University of London. 

The school has also been invited to join a Royal Society working group on ‘Partnership Grants for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).’  

Sighted people take for granted the ability to use computer screens to explore three-dimensional shapes and entire scenes. The project, which is being carried out with the support of Dr Nikoleta Yiannoutsou from the Knowledge Lab, aims to offer a similar experience to students with limited or no sight, using  a combination of stereo sound and  and haptic technology to create a unique computer user interface that lets students explore 3D environments. 

For the uninitiated, haptic technology allows computer users to ‘touch’ virtual objects by applying a force to their hand that simulates the force felt when touching a solid object. In this case, the project is using 3D Systems’ Touch devicewhich is held like a pen, but  attached to a robotic arm that resists the user realistically when they ‘touch’ a computer-generated objects. This means that students can prod and explore and run their pen over surfaces of objects that don’t otherwise exist.

The haptic device is held like a pen and resists the user
The haptic device is held like a pen and resists the user as they move it over a virtual  3D shape

The project is using the technology in 3 related areas. The first is the sheer fun and experience of using IT that is adapted for VI use:  Many young people with vision impairment miss out on full the experience of something simple as being able to fully take part in games or experiment with IT, so for some of them this offers a unique opportunity.

The second is the use of technology for educational games that can help the students get to grips with exploring depth or using mathematical knowledge to explore geometric shapes. 

Space balloons game
The space balloons game teaches all about using coordinates and depth. It's fun too!

In the ‘space balloon’ game, for example students learn about using 3D coordinate systems (to set up patterns of  virtual balloons with their stylus, which can then be ‘popped’ by another student. The games uses the special ‘WeDraw’ software created with EU funding.

The space shapes game allows students to explore geometric shapes, using maths concepts.

Finally, the project is also going to invest in a 3D printer which will let students create physical copies of objects that they have created and explored and turn them into jewellery, such as bracelets that they can wear. 

The project should get underway early next term and we will have more news about it then.