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A touching sight

Weaving my way through the pea soup that is the world wide web recently, I stumbled across something which, whilst not exactly a thing of beauty, had enough of those 'I may want one of those' qualities to compel me to find out more.

The image in question was of one of the Gold winners of this year's Industrial Design Excellence Awards, the Touch Sight camera for the visually impaired. Designed by Chueh Lee at Samsung Design China, it is a digital camera that, instead of the usual LCD, incorporates a lightweight, flexible Braille display sheet that displays a 3D image by embossing the surface, allowing the user to touch their photo. A three second sound recording feature that is activated after the shutter button is pressed enables the user to create a reference that can be used when reviewing and managing photos. Crucially, the touchable photo is saved in the device and can be uploaded to share with others, and downloaded to other Touch Sight cameras.

Whilst it seems unusual, at first glance, to consider that blind and visually impaired people might want to take a photo, Lee and his design team challenge more than just this assumption. Unusually, the Touch Sight isn't something that is critical to daily life ” it's a nice-to-have, a criteria that is an unusual starting point for most products for the visually impaired. The Touch Sight is also positively attractive, as well as ergonomic in form. Whilst it is a prototype at present, I feel sure that like the iPod, it could be capable of generating its own momentum in terms of demand for these very reasons.

The Touch Sight seems to tap into what photography is all about. Aren't all photos, however successful, an attempt to encapsulate a moment of a time, a place, a feeling, that we may never experience again? And are those grainy, black and white images of our grandparents any less evocative that those we take today? Whilst I have lots of questions for Chueh – like the extent to which users will be able to judge depth and textures from the Braille display – this is one of the most thought provoking consumer product designs that I have come across in a while, as well as a pretty good example of mixed signal engineering!

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