NOMS - Nano-Optical Mechanical Systems
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The purpose of the NOMS project is to build a visual-aid tablet for use by the  visually impaired. The device may be attached to computers, I-Pods, mobile phones, etc.

The device will utilise novel developments in optically-actuated nano-composite materials.

Overview of the project

Nano-optical mechanical actuation based on nanotube-enriched polymeric materials is a much sought-after technology. In this scheme, light sources promote mechanical actuation of the polymeric materials producing a variety of nano–optical mechanical systems such as tactile displays, artificial muscles, and nano-grippers among others. The purpose of the NOMS project is to fabricate microsystems capable of light-induced mechanical actuation. In particular, the team proposes to build a tactile visual-aid tablet for the visually impaired, as shown in the schematic below. Accomplishing this ambitious project requires knowledge of basic and integrating research within the field. It also requires the contribution of expert neuropsychologists to study, in cooperation with end-users, the effectiveness of the tablet both as an assistive tool for the visually impaired and as a research tool in the field of neuropsychology.

NOMS will provide tactile screens for the visually impaired to read complex visual representations such as mathematical equations and graphical images. Everyday activities of such individuals will be greatly improved by including these devices in ATMs, personal computers, mobile telephones etc. This project is visionary with respect to some of the mainstream R&D directions, offering European industry a competitive advantage in the assistive technology marketplace worldwide.

The NOMS project will bring this technology to maturity by developing the nano-composite material to behave according to a set of specifications and then integrating it into a tactile display device. Technology for the visually impaired is currently rather archaic with no refreshable media where an image may be felt. To feel an image, a print out using special paper is required.

Schematic of proposed visual-aid NOMS tablet showing computer wireless interface along with subjacent optical technology.

The tactile display will allow for images to be felt across a range of refreshable media. There has recently been enormous growth in consumer devices with touch screens (e.g. iPhone). Tactile displays in such devices would also potentially be useful for sighted individuals.

During the course of the project one of the partners, a neuropsychologist, will utilize the prototype tactile display to conduct fundamental research into how the brain processes tactile information.