For many of us, daily activities such as going to work, meeting friends, or banking and online shopping are familiar routines of life.

However, an estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide live with visual impairment, many with moderate or severe levels. For them, performing tasks that others take for granted presents unique challenges. These barriers not only take away convenience, but often take away their freedom as well.

In their sphere, the sense of touch and hearing are important, which allow them to interact with and understand the outside world. An alarm that signals the start of the day, the sound of an oncoming train, Braille on a touchpad indicating road directions – these audio and tactile cues serve as guides.

However, instead of making life easier for visually impaired people, technology and the digitally connected world can make things difficult. Voice prompts can be difficult to use in noisy environments. And relying on screen-reading software and voice for information can lead to misinterpretation of important details and increase online risks.

Harnessing the Power of Touch: Haptic Technology

To this end, we are working to optimize touch-based solutions to empower people with vision limitations to “see” the world. We want to create an intuitive sensory language that helps blind and low vision people better understand and navigate their surroundings.

This is the basis of our haptic technology. Originally developed for use in the game Peacekeeper Elite – think the vibration of your controller – the haptics include over 200 different and unique pulses to convey information.

The MTGPA team at Tencent Games quickly realized the potential application of this technology for wider positive social impact beyond gaming. It brought together key stakeholders, including Tencent teams across various divisions, academia, research organizations and community representatives, to collaborate on various use cases and advance haptics to improve the lives of people with visual impairments.

The project team created the industry’s first standardized game vibration tactile feedback system and a tactile feedback international standard, an integrated solution that is compatible with both Android and iOS platforms. By 2022, MTGPA Haptics will be installed on over 240 million smartphones.

Understanding user needs and benefits

Navigating the Physical World With Confidence

Traveling safely in the physical world is a paramount concern for the visually impaired. Traditional aids such as canes or guide dogs can be affected by outside elements, causing missteps or disorientation. Finding the right bus or traveling in a crowded and noisy environment can be a daunting task.

Tencent Maps with Haptics Feedback addresses this challenge. Using smartphone vibrations along with voice prompts, the technology allows users to navigate to physical locations. No vibration indicates the correct direction, the vibration increases or decreases according to the degree of deviation from the course.

Similarly, custom vibrations combined with voice alerts help users identify upcoming buses or trains, and notify them when they reach their destination. This innovation gives visually impaired users a greater sense of control and confidence in navigating their surroundings.

secure digital access

The digital world presents unique challenges, with data input and privacy concerns for people with visual impairments. Screen-reading software, commonly used to interact with digital platforms, can inadvertently expose sensitive information in public places.

Tencent’s Sogou Input Method addresses this through specialized haptics feedback. Different vibrations correspond to specific alphanumeric characters on a digital keyboard, making it easier for visually impaired users to input information accurately and efficiently. This approach also ensures privacy protections and eliminates the need for screen-reading software.

Improving access to digital information in all formats

Visual data, such as line graphs, often present difficulties in accessing information for visually impaired individuals. Haptic technology overcomes this limitation by enabling touch-based vibrations, allowing users to feel and interpret data. With haptic feedback, they can “see” and understand digital information that was previously inaccessible to them.

staying connected with family, friends and colleagues

Knowing who is calling is an important aspect of communication, but relying only on voice announcements can compromise privacy in public places. Haptic vibration feedback discreetly notifies users of incoming calls, therefore maintaining privacy while keeping people connected.

user friendliness

Usability testing of Tencent’s haptic technology and feedback from visually impaired users shows their appreciation for such innovations. With a quick learning curve of around 30 minutes and an impressive information recognition rate of 90 percent, haptic feedback technology proves to be an effective addition solution. It expands the scope of barrier-free content, stimulates multiple senses, and creates a richer and more inclusive experience.

Working together to create a barrier-free world

The adoption of haptic feedback technology along with open-source initiatives will pave the way for greater inclusivity and accessibility. Tencent’s open patent licensing program allows haptic patents to be openly used for accessibility applications. It also encourages third party developers to contribute and join and improve the overall ecosystem.

While visually impaired people have been the main beneficiaries, vibration and tactile feedback technology can also help the hearing impaired and the elderly. Through these collaborative efforts, we can build a more inclusive society where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can live freely and participate effectively in the digital world.

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