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Human-Computer Interaction


The Mint team calls upon children to create a haptic book

© CC0-SA

The Mint project team from Inria Lille - Nord Europe has had the crazy idea of producing a digital book that reproduces touch sensations. For its design, the team is turning to a participative method - calling upon the imagination of elementary and high school children.

In his lifetime, Julien Gracq always refused that his works be published in pocket-size format. Even now it is impossible to find Le rivage des Syrtes apart from in the José Corti edition to which he remained true right to the end: softback books, whose pages need cutting with a paper knife before they can be read.  Like many authors, he was very fond of the book as an object, to the texture of the paper, and to the smell of the ink on the pages. "With digital books we are losing this sensation ", regrets Frédéric Giraud, associate professor at Lille 1 University and member of the Mint project team at Inria Lille – Nord Europe (jointly with the CNRS and Lille 1 University*). That is why, with his research team - and together with a writer and staff at the Lille municipal library - he wants to give touch sensations back to readers.

An enhanced book

A haptic book resembles a digital tablet: a flat rectangular screen upon which you can move your fingers. On both sides of the surface there are "exciters". "The surface has a hard screen, but the exciters make it vibrate by a few micrometers thanks to ultrasounds. This vibrating effect creates the illusion of 3D, " explains Frédéric Giraud. The vibratory amplitude changes according to where the finger is placed, thereby giving a sensation of granularity, and the finger slides more easily when the screen vibrates. The Mint project team has, for example, been able to reproduce the feel of fish scales: alternating smooth surfaces overlapping each other. However the researchers wanted to put their technology to use. "We wanted to turn towards the world of books and culture , tells Frédéric Giraud. In a book, touch makes it possible to add an emotional experience. " That is why the Mint project team first went to see the Lille municipal library, before entering into a partnership with an author, Dominique Maes, who is creating a storyline in order to produce this enhanced book.

Dominique Maes, drawer - © Frédéric Raeven

From the very beginning of the project, the aim was to get young people from the area involved in its design. And so students from three classes were involved in a participative design process: one each from the third, seventh and tenth grades. Before they met the Mint project team, library staff raised their awareness about touch.  "We showed them the object and the sensations that we could reproduce. " The children then worked with the author in order to write the storyline. "The point of working with children is that they will certainly have unexpected ideas that can be incorporated , Frédéric Giraud raves. They were reactive from the off: they imagined how this technology could be integrated into their games. A lot of them are passionate about video games. One of them thought up the idea of reproducing the feeling of scratching the ground. " The book will therefore be tactile, but could also include little animations that will surprise the readers page after page, or sound elements. Once the storyline is finished, the Mint team will integrate tactile vignettes into certain passages.

The book will be presented during the Night of the Libraries, on October 15, at the Library of Lille. In the future, the haptic book should be available on the touch terminals installed in the Lille municipal library.

Haptic book realised by Mint project-team - © CC0-SA

Technology that is full of promise

The Mint project team has numerous application projects for its haptic tablet. In particular, the researchers are working with the Textile Physics and Mechanics Laboratory (LPMT) in Mulhouse to produce simulations of materials: "with these textile specialists, we want to simulate the interactions that can take place with different fabrics, such as velvet for example, in order to reproduce these sensations. " The haptic tablet could also have applications for the blind: "for example, we can show a clickable link through touch".

* at UMR 9189, CNRS-Centrale Lille-Université Lille1, CRIStAL and EA 2697 L2EP.

Keywords: Human-computer interaction Participative design Literature Haptic feedback Art