Haptic signing is a process in which a hearing, sighted person conveys information to a deaf and blind individual by touching their back or other parts of their body. It's effective, but what happens if the deafblind person wants to be more independent? Well, new haptic-feedback clothing could help.

The technology is being developed via the three-year European Union SUITCEYES project. That acronym stands for Smart, User-friendly, Interactive, Tactual, Cognition-Enhancer that Yields Extended Sensosphere.

It incorporates a computer-connected wearable camera that identifies important items such as people's faces, obstacles in the room, or objects that the user wishes to locate. This information is translated into vibrations or other haptic signals, which are delivered to the user's body via a network of actuators built into their clothing.

Originally taking the form of a prototype dress, the SUITCEYES tech is now in its fourth generation, and has been built into a one-off vest. The back of that garment has a checkerboard pattern, each square containing a separate actuator that buzzes the wearer in a different place to convey different information.

Plans now call for a number of such vests to be manufactured, so that the technology can be tested on a larger scale.

"Historically, textiles have always been something closely tied to humans," says Assoc. Prof. Nils-Krister Persson of Sweden's University of Borås, which is leading the project. "Now we are taking the next step and making textiles be a tool for communication."