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Calgary-developed tactile touchscreens: Stevie Wonder tested, CNIB approved

Stevie Wonder was among the people who recently got a chance to try out a Calgary-developed technology that aims to make tablet devices more accessible to the blind by letting them “feel” images on touchscreens.

“He thought it was pretty cool,” Doug Hagedorn said, after returning from a conference in San Diego, Calif., where the famous, blind musician was among the attendees.

Hagedorn is the founder and CEO of Tactalis (formerly known as Invici), a Calgary startup he launched in 2012 and now includes a half-dozen people on the team.

Their technology uses an array of magnets embedded beneath an LCD screen that can be activated and deactivated, corresponding with images on the display.

Using a metal stylus or a ring on the tip of the finger, users can then “feel” the images in a dynamic way.

“It’s a very, very unique sensation,” Hagedorn said.

The system also tracks hand movements and uses text-to-speech technology to read out relevant information based on the user’s inputs.

Alberta CNIB executive director John McDonald said technology has been an “incredibly important enabler for people with vision loss” but accessibility often “lags behind” the ever-accelerating pace of new developments.

He applauded Tactalis for “really breaking some new ground” on that front.

“I’m really hopeful that the pace will continue and that accessibility, in some cases, will be less of an afterthought and more embedded in the front end of production of things,” McDonald said.

Hagedorn said Tactalis aims to do its first manufacturing run by the end of this year – somewhere between 50 and 200 units – and then gather feedback from users to further refine the system before manufacturing more devices.

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