The Phantasticon - The PHANToM for disabled children

Carl Sjöström


The PHANToM is an invention from MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which enables tactile communication between a human and a computer. The PHANToM is developed as a general haptic interface. At CERTEC, Center of Rehabilitation Engineering, in Lund, Sweden, we have seen the possibility of giving handicapped persons, mainly children with visual impairment or a physical disability, new possibilities using The PHANToM. We have chosen to call the concept "The Phantasticon" (Fantomaten in Swedish).

CERTEC has developed many different programs for the Phantasticon. The programs are working units themselves, as well as a basis for further development. We have developed a program for making mathematics more easy to understand, a tactile based computer game and paint-with-colours-program for visually impaired people.

To use the Phantasticon one only needs to be able to move one hand. All programs can be used by people with a visual impairment. Our tactile based computer game is one of the first computer games which can be played by a deaf blind person.

This report is a documentation of what has been done so far. We will now intensify the development of the Phantasticon, among other things by a masters thesis and more extensive user testing.

Leader of the project is Ph D Bodil Jönsson.

CERTEC and the Phantasticon

CERTEC is working with the meeting between human needs and technical possibilities. Normally we start with the human needs and develop technical solutions from that aspect. Sometimes though it is motivated to start from the other side.

In this case we have used a technical solution which has been developed for other purposes and modified it to correspond to the needs of a disabled person. We have turned The PHANToM into the Phantasticon.

A short description of The PHANToM

The PHANToM is a small robot which acts as a haptic interface between a human and a computer. A normal program uses vision, sound, a keyboard and a mouse for the interaction with a user. The PHANToM adds a new dimension to human computer interaction, namely tactile interaction.

It is not unusual to connect a robot to a computer as is done with thePHANToM. The special thing in this case is that movement and sense is used for interaction between the human and the computer. With The PHANToM a user can feel objects which are represented inside the computer. At the same time one can use movement to give commands and to get feedback from the program.

Making a Phantasticon out of The PHANToM

When The PHANToM is extended to meet the needs of handicapped persons it becomes a complete system. This system includes The PHANToM itself, and the software from CERTEC. It also includes a lot of ideas and thoughts about what can be done for people with special needs using this hardware and software. Altogether this is what we call the Phantasticon.

Software development for the Phantasticon

Software for the Phantasticon has been developed by three persons at CERTEC, they are: Niclas Melin, Charlotte Magnusson and Carl Sjöström.

The base program

Niclas Melin has made the first software development for the Phantasticon. Niclas has made the major part of his work within the course Rehabilitation Engineering at CERTEC. An important part of his work has been to develop a structured base for further development in C++. The base consist of classes for communicating with The PHANToM, making virtual rooms and putting objects in The PHANToM rooms.

Paint with your fingers

Niclas Melin has also made a program with which one can paint computer pictures with a finger. One can choose a colour from a palette and paint with it on the screen. The harder you push with your finger, the thicker becomes the line. Each colour also has an individual structure. When you are painting you can feel the structure which is being painted. One can also feel the structure of the whole picture by changing program mode with a simple click on the space key.

Mathematical curves and surfaces

Mathematics is a partially visual subject. That is often noticed by people who try to explain mathematics for blind persons. With the help of the Phantasticon also blind persons can learn to understand equations as curves and surfaces. Charlotte Magnusson has made a program which makes it possible to feel any mathematical curve or surface with The PHANToM.

"Submarines or minks"

"Submarines or minks" is a PHANToM variant of the well known battleship game. The player can feel 10x10 squares in a coordinate system. In the game your finger is a helicopter which is hunting submarines with depth charge bombs. If you lay your finger on the "water surface" you can feel the smooth waves moving up and down. The surface feels different after you have dropped a bomb, and it also feels different if a submarine has been sunk.

This computer game uses The PHANToM, the screen and the keyboard for the interaction with the user. It also uses sound effects as most games do nowadays. "Submarines or minks" is one of the first computer games which can be played by a deaf blind person.

"Submarines or minks" has been programmed by Carl Sjöström.

The future of the Phantasticon

During 1996 the project "the Phantasticon" will accelerate heavily. We will increase user testing by dedicating one PHANToM to this purpose. We will also increase our efforts to develop new programs for the Phantasticon. One step in this direction will be a masters thesis by Carl Sjöström.

PHANToM, deaf blind, Phantasticon, children, computer game, physical disability, assistive technology

Contact persons:
Author: Carl Sjöström
Box 118
S-221 00 Lund
Fax: +46-46-222 44 31
Leader of the project: Ph D Bodil Jönsson
Fax: +46-46-222 44 31