The project Haptic Experiments: Kinaesthetic Empathy and Non-Sighted Dance Audiences explores how the innovative combination of existing motion tracking and haptic technologies can support non-sighted audience members to experience viscerally the movements performed by dancers during live dance performances. In this way, such audience members might achieve a deeper emotional engagement with the choreographic works they attend.
It builds on recent research on the concept of kinaesthetic empathy (http://www.watchingdance.org/). This concept refers to how sighted audience members respond kinaesthetically, in culturally specific manners, to the movements they watch, and how this might trigger associations between the movements they watch and their personal experiences of such movements.
The project combines affordable and reasonably accessible technologies, such as the motion sensing input device Kinect (http://www.xbox.com/en-GB/kinect), which has been designed by Microsoft to be used in combination with the Xbox 360 video game console. The motion of dancers will be tracked via one or more Kinect devices, and the motion data recorded in this way will be mapped on a specifically built haptic pad supported by miniscule vibrotactile motors. These motors can produce a repertoire of vibrations of different intensities and speeds across different areas of the pad, thus providing a mapping of the changes of the dynamic qualities of the performance event. Non-sighted users will be invited to explore with their fingers this haptic landscape (in a similar way that they do when reading Braille). This approach has been designed as an equivalent to how sighted audiences use their eyes to explore the performance space in order to capture the dance performance as it unfolds through time.
Context of the research
Haptic technology which supports tactile devices is increasingly employed for the visually impaired to assist, negotiate, understand and investigate their immediate surroundings. Tactile devices engage users through their sense of touch, by combining tactile perception with kinaesthetic sensing (i.e., the position, placement, and orientation) through appropriate haptic interfaces. However this technology has not been used to assist access of visually impaired persons to movement-related events and spectacles, such as dance performances, or sports events. A small number of dance companies have used verbal descriptions of the movement activities, however this is very limited, due to language limitations and because it interferes with the musical accompaniment of the performance.
Aims of the research
In this scoping study the basic principles of extracting movement parameters from motion tracking data and mapping them on the vibrotactile pad will be examined to unable future research which will involve more sophisticated collection and transmission of movement information. The study will include experimental workshops with non-sighted participants, and the development of a small network of interested parties, both academic and non-academic, involving groups of visually impaired users, organisations for the support of visually impaired, relevant industry and funders. This network will be constituted in the final phase of the project to maximise opportunities for varied feedback and identification of resources for the development of this scoping study into a fully fledged research project.
Relevance of the research
This project draws from the potential of current technologies to offer much wider access to the aesthetic experience of dance performances for visually impaired audience members, and simultaneously challenges assumptions about how audiences receive dance performances, which might encourage choreographers to expand their working methods. It also seeks to stimulate new developments in the use of haptic technology for the visually impaired both in relation to their access to dance and other movement-related activities, such as sports activities.
Sophia Lycouris (Movement/Choreography)
Wendy Timmons (Movement/Choreography)
Mark Wright (Information Technology)
John Ravenscroft (Visual Impairment Specialist)
Research Assistant/Kinect Specialist: Stathis Vafeias
Haptic Technology Specialist: Lauren Hayes
Visual Impairment Advisor: John Newing
This project is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Edinburgh with a Digital Transformations Research Development grant. It is a project run by an interdisciplinary team across Edinburgh College of Art, the Moray House School of Education and the School of Informatics.