Google Glass teaches people to dot and dash

Prof. Thad Starner with the Morse code-teaching eyewear(Credit: Georgia Tech)

If you want to learn Morse code, it turns out that all you have to do is play an experimental new Google Glass-based game – if you can still find a pair of the glasses, that is. Players have the code buzzed into their head while they play, so they don't have to make a point of intentionally memorizing anything. And while the usefulness of such a skill in this day and age may be questionable, the technology does have applications beyond Morse code – and beyond smartglasses.

The game was developed at Georgia Tech, by a team led by Prof. Thad Starner and his Ph.D student Caitlyn Seim.

Part of the audio portion of the game involves letters of the alphabet being spoken to the user, via the glasses' speakers. At the same time that each letter is said, the Morse code for that letter is transmitted as a series of dot/dash vibrations, by the glasses' bone-conduction transducer. These vibrations are felt as taps on the player's skull, between their ear and temple.

Even though the game does not require players to memorize which code is associated with which letter, they appear to do so anyway after playing for a few hours. It's a process known as passive haptic learning (PHL), which Georgia Tech has previously used to teach people Braille and to play the piano via vibrating gloves.

In a test of the system, Starner and Seim had a group of volunteers play the game for less than four hours, then try keying in messages using their passively-memorized Morse code. The participants were able to compose a sentence that included every letter of the alphabet with 94 percent accuracy, while they were 98 percent accurate at keying the codes for each individual letter.

By contrast, a control group which did not receive the head-taps during the game only did about half as well.

"Does this new study mean that people will rush out to learn Morse code? Probably not," says Starner. "It shows that PHL lowers the barrier to learn text-entry methods — something we need for smartwatches and any text-entry that doesn't require you to look at your device or keyboard."

Next up, he wants to find out if PHL can be used to teach people to touch-type.

Source: Georgia Tech

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