Please touch the art: Iain Emsley reports on Museums project

Please touch the art: Iain Emsley reports on Museums project

Research Associate Iain Emsley was at the Research Software Engineer conference recently talking about his experiences developing museum technology for people who are visually impaired.

The RSE conference was held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester from 7th-8th September 2017, with around 200 attendees. It is organised by the RSE Association, which aims to represent and promote the work of research software engineers in academia.

The Centre also supports this aim through the University of Oxford Research Software Developer Network, which brings together those developing software or electronic data for research with researchers or managers who need help with software development for a project. The network aims to connect these individuals in order to share expertise, provide appropriate advanced training, and facilitate re-employment with the University, hence optimising the use of their skills to enhance the University's research.

Iain Emsley, along with Torø Graven, Nicola Bird, Susan Griffiths, Jessica Suess (all University of Oxford), presented a talk entitled 'Please touch the art: Experiences in developing for people who are visually impaired in museums'. An ongoing project with the Oxford University Museums is working to improve access to visual art works via audio and haptic interfaces for people who are visually impaired.

As part of the research an Android application was developed to enable the modelling of how people touch the paintings and photographs. As a sighted person, it is extremely difficult to comprehend how touch is used to explore raised images – 'touch tiles' – of visual art works.

Working with the existing Touch Tours, provided by the Museums, and focus groups over 6 months they collected data on how touch is used when exploring the tiles, including its attentiveness to features, its exploring pattern, and its preferred touch tile material. They soon realised they needed more detailed data on exploration pattern, and so developed an application that could track and record both pressure and movement. The tile was placed on top of a tablet screen. This application enables the modelling of exploring movements and pressure, along with time spent on different features, e.g. for how long a certain shape is explored. This information will enable further development of the interface.

The Centre's Research Software Engineer Ania Brown was also at the conference, running an introduction to GPU optimisation workshop using the NVIDIA visual profiler. The workshop was aimed at developers with beginning to intermediate level CUDA who have written basic programs in CUDA and want a deeper understanding of their program and possibilities for its optimisation.