Thursday, September 29, 2011

The BSVH, Heiko Kunert and the blog Blind-PR

In Hamburg there is a quite vibrant scene of blind and visually-impaired people, most prominently gathered in the BSVH, the society of blind and visually-impaired people Hamburg.The activities of the BSVH are targeted at community building through joint activities, public awareness through the distribution of information, and policy advocacy through giving advice and comments to policy makers. The society gathers relevant  news, publishes the newsletter "Augenblick Mail" and its own press releases and twitter feed, has an event calender and provides information about sight-related illnesses and where to get help in Hamburg. Once a month there is the BSVH-Treff, a two-hour talk session aired by the Hamburg local radio station, that is available as podcast as well.

Heiko Kunert, the current public relation officer and designated manager general from 2012 on, is the most visible beacon of the active community members. He runs the blog Blind-PR where he comments on current developments of assistive technology, public policies and a diversity of issues adjacent to the needs and rights of people with special needs. Heiko supported different media in reporting about aspects of living with visual impairements, for example, in "DIGIsellschaft" for ZDF Elektrischer Reporter or in "Mein Leben als Blinder" for Pro7 Galileo.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ken Forbus talked about "Sketching our way to human-level AI"

On Tuesday, Ken Forbus from the Northwestern University gave a talk "Sketching our way to human-level AI" as part of his 3-day visit to the SFB/TR 8 Spatial Cognition research group at the University of Bremen:

"This talk will summarize two large-scale efforts at Northwestern: (1) CogSketch, an open-domain sketch understanding system.  Our goal with CogSketch is to make it a useful research instrument for cognitive scientists (including AI researchers) and as a platform for sketch-based educational software.  (2) Companion cognitive systems, a cognitive architecture which makes analogical processing central.  Our goal with Companions is to create the first software social organisms, a step towards human-level artificial intelligence.  I'll focus on aspects of these efforts that might be particularly interesting from the perspective of potential collaborations: knowledge capture games to explore the semantics of spatial language, modeling 3D reasoning of engineers, learning by reading, and apprenticeship learning in a strategy game."

For me, the talk was highly interesting as it opened up a perspective how to analyse sketches of maps in a conceptual way. Other pictures are available here

In a personal conversation one day later, Ken took the time and discussed with me how I could use CogSketch in my research. This approach allows to compare sketches and helps to segment them into the basic conceptually entities. The algorithms and knowledge base behind CogSketch allow to compute a similarity value on the ground of spatial properties, for example, the directional relations of entities, their neighbourhood, the containment etc. CogSketch is really amazing and I will definitely give a try!

Thank you Ken for your time and your advice and please continue with your collaborators to provide such great tools like CogSketch!

Conferences on Tactile Maps or Cognitive Issues of Navigation

Recently, the 1st European State of the Map Conference of the OpenStreetMap project took place in Vienna, Austria. Participants from various countries were present and listened to a bunch of interesting talks. In the context of my research, the talk by Annette Thurow on OSM for blind users was particularly insightful. How to make customized maps from OSM data with Maperitive was demonstrated as well. All recordings of the presentations and conference proceedings (PDF) are available.

Upcoming conferences and possibly relevant presentations:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Projects about constructing physical tactile maps


Different techniques to produce physical tactile representation of space
Tactile maps with a laser cutter (photo)
Tactile maps with a braille printer (photo)
Tactile maps with HaptoRender currently made from copper and probably from plastics in the future
Tactile maps with a 3d printer (PDF paper)

Examples of hand-crafted physical tactile representations
Ancient tactile maps of greenland
Different types of terrain models, relief types and techniques (ETH Zürich)
Tactile maps hand-crafted made from metal in Bremen (photo), in Bergen (photo)
3d models cast from copper: in Edinburgh, in Leipzig (photo)

Custom production and Vendors of tactile maps

TOUCH in Hamburg
Deutscher Hilfsmittelvertrieb in Hannover
Deutsche Blindenstudienanstalt (Blista) in Marburg
DZB (Deutsche Zentralbibliothek für Blinde) in Leipzig
Grenzenlos Verlag in Erfurt

Trivector in Toronto, Canada
The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, California
Spatial and Map Cognition Research Lab in Eugene, Oregan
Product Map for all by Royal National Institute of Blind People

More: A compilation of several tactile image links

Listing of International News Coverage about Tactile Maps

13.08.2011: Universal access to recreation for all people, of all abilities: Money for tactile maps awarded

03.08.2011: Tactile map of Eden created for people with visual impairments

11.01.2011: Talking tactile maps as orientation tools for visually impaired: Local areas under your fingers

31.05.2010: Tactile Maps for Blind People

15.03.2010: Tactile Maps of Greenland

18.12.2008: Campus unveils Braille/tactile maps

31.01.2008: Tactile Maps

01.03.2005: Student researchers to present tactile maps of campus to blind students, staff

Monday, August 15, 2011

Off-topic: For a new publication culture

Entschleunigung of the research - however how?

by Gerd Schwerhoff (In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung vom 10.08.2011. S.N5)

"A scientific text has often hardly more reader than authors. The anthologies to conferences bind the energy of the scientist and shorten its view. A suggestion on the delimitation of the publication illusion."
read the whole article at (in German)
read a short wrap-up at iuwis (in German)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Media Coverage about Tactile Maps

This entry is supposed to function as a list of links to ressources and blog reports about tactile maps on the web.

In a broader sense tactile maps could be everything material that is explored with the fingers and that holds an analogy to the spatial world, for example
Some radio reports, like this and this (from 2008), have investigated the topic of tactile maps and how they could help in navigating as well. Sometimes you can find a newspaper article on the topic (from 2006). Some papers I have read as well are introduced in ajfowler's blog. Jonathan Crowe's blog about maps featured several articles on tactile maps: most notably A View of Prague for the Blind and Maps for the Visually Impaired (from 2007). Some universities have founded research groups and report about it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Follow-up on Echolocation

As follow-up to my last post about echolocation and the plasticity of the brain the topic 'echolocation' seems to be a hot one right now. Apart from the scientific article mentioned already in that post, there are main stream media like the German Spiegel that report about those findings and their implications. Three articles and one video might be interesting to read for those how speak German:

Akustisches Sehen - Forscher bringt Menschen Echo-Ortung bei

Hirnforschung - Wie sich Blinde per Echoortung orientieren

Wahrnehmung - Die Fledermausmädchen

Fledermauseffekt - Wie Blinde mit den Ohren sehen

Auf dem Hintergrund meiner eigenen Arbeiten zu taktilen Karten kann ich eine Beobachtung, die auch in den Artikeln geschildert wird, bestätigen: die menschliche Wahrnehmung und Interpretation der Umwelt stellt sich auf die Sinne um, die zur Verfügung stehen, so dass man auch als Sehender erstaunlich schnell lernen kann, seinem z.B. Tastsinn zu vertrauen. Physiologisch ist der Tastsinn eines Sehenden und eines Blinden vergleichbar gut (bei Blinden entwickeln sich nicht auf einmal mehr Rezeptoren in der Haut), allein die kortikalen Strukturen zur Verarbeitung der Sinnesreize sind verändert. Das zeigen die o.g. Erfahrungsberichte über Echolokalisation und die Untersuchungen zur neuronalen Plastizität des Gehirns sehr anschaulich.

Auch die Interpretation von Geruchsempfindungen kann ein Niveau erreichen, das Menschen, die ganz von visuellen Reize eingenommen werden, ungewöhnlich erscheint.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Neuro-physiological plasticity: New study on echolocation

A small number of blind people are adept at echolocating silent objects simply by producing mouth clicks and listening to the returning echoes. The neural architecture underlying the ability of aid-free human echolocation has been recently investigated in a study published in PLoS ONE. The authors conclude that "the findings suggest that processing of click-echoes recruits brain regions typically devoted to vision rather than audition in both early and late blind echolocation experts." "The study is a first step in understanding how the brain processes an ability that seemingly melds sound and sight." (Source: Article "Blind People 'See' Shapes, Navigate Using Echoes" on

The study is another brick in the foundation to the concept of brainplasticity or neuro(nal)plasticity (aka neuro-physiological plasticity). It basically says that the brain is able to reorganize itself on the physiological level to assign particular brain areas to functions for which they were not used before or for which they are not used for in other humans. In 2009 and in 2010 fantastic documentaries picturing the ideas from Norman Doidge's book were aired on German Arte TV respectively on Canadian CBC ("Neustart im Kopf" and "Changing your mind"/"The brain that changes itself") that showed how powerful that concept is and what it can mean to disabled people, both in terms of overcoming physical and mental disabilities. It takes a lot of training but you can teach your brain to build up neural connections that eventually can overtake the function of some damaged area or strengthen the function of existing areas.

For more information get Norman Doidge's book or have a look into the Google Scholar for papers on the topic.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Money makes the world go 'round...

As graduated student who is not part of a Graduate School and who is in about to finish his PhD in one years time, it is hard to find financial support.Fortunately I do not desperately need the financial support, but attending costly conferences, meeting other supported students or having the opportunities of attending workshops would be highly welcomed. The big and well known supporting agencies are easily found by your preferred search engine. Aside from that, some opportunities are offered by the of the little-known FAZIT-Stiftung and 
Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Group on visualization doing map stuff at HAfencity University

A friend pointed me to the Christoph Kinkeldey's blog about his work in the Lab for Geoinformatics and Geovisualization that seems to be part of an "interdisciplinary group on visualization at hafencity university in hamburg. The blog allows to imagine what he and his co-workers do in the DigitalCity Research Group at HafenCity Uni (a more reliable source is this article (PDF)). One of his research questions is how the style of a city map affect the cognitive image of the depicted geographic space. This is quite close to my own research that asks a similar question for tactile orientation maps: how do the parameters of the realisation of a tactile map influence its conceptualisation? As me, the researchers at DigitalCity Research Group work on pedestrian navigation in cities, but they try to find new ways to support online navigation with the help of sensor network. My work is on in-advance learning of spatial structures to allow for later self-guided navigation. Anyway I will keep my eyes open what these people do. Christoph will present his work "Framework for Detection and Analysis of Land Cover Changes Using Visual Analytics" at GeoVis 2011 that is organised by HafenCity University.

Friday, January 21, 2011

GeoViz und COSIT Concerences in 2011

GeoVis 2011 is an ICA workshop on integrating computational techniques for analyzing and modeling geospatial information with visual methods for their depiction, interaction and analysis in Hamburg in March 2011. From the workshop's website: "It is geospatial knowledge, in forms of patterns, structures, relationships, and rules, rather than the assembly of spatial information, that can significantly contribute to solving real world problems. [...] There is the need to link computational methods with interactive maps and cartographic techniques to support analysis of complex, voluminous and heterogeneous information involving measurements made in space and time." The preliminary programm (PDF) looks interesting albeit the audience seems to be from geography and cartography demain mostly, spatial cognition is underrepresented. Yet, I will be there, I guess.

COSIT is THE premier conference on cognitive sciences, with a widespread spectrum and some audience with special interest in spatial cognition: "The Conference looks for significant contributions to all major fields of the Computer Science and Information Technology in theoretical and practical aspects. The aim of the conference is to provide a platform to the researchers and practitioners from both academia as well as industry to meet and share cutting-edge development in the field." The 2011 conference will be held in Belfast - not that one in Northern Ireland but the one in Maine, USA. The call for papers has just been sent out, submissions for tutorials and workshops are due by the end of January. I would like to submit a workshop or some form of interaction forum, maybe a planary discussion on questions about supporting disabled people with personalized GIS products and what we can learn from that reason for other audiences. If someone would like to take part, get back to me!

Update: Newer post about COSIT 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Space and Sense" by Susanna Millar

Susanna Millar's book "Understanding and representing space: Theory and evidence from studies with blind and sighted children" was a major step in the science about representation of spatial phenomena in blind people. Now Millar has brought a kind of update in 2008, not groundbreaking (only three libraries have it in the whole Germany!) but re-interpreting the data in the light of the past 15years: Space and Sense (Essays in Cognitive Psychology).

The abstract reads as follows:
How do we perceive the space around us, locate objects within it, and make our way through it? What do the senses contribute? This book focuses on touch in order to examine which aspects of vision and touch overlap in spatial processing. It argues that spatial processing depends crucially on integrating diverse sensory inputs as reference cues for the location, distance or direction response that spatial tasks demand. "Space and Sense" shows how perception by touch, as by vision, can be helped by external reference cues, and that 'visual' illusions that are also found in touch depend on common factors and do not occur by chance. Susanna Millar presents new evidence on the role of spatial cues in touch and movement both with and without vision, and discusses the interaction of both touch and movement with vision in spatial tasks.This book shows how perception by touch, as by vision, can be helped by external reference cues, and that 'visual' illusions that are also found in touch depend on common factors and do not occur by chance. It challenges traditional views of explicit external reference cues, showing that they can improve spatial recall with inputs from touch and movement, contrary to the held belief. "Space and Sense" provides empirical evidence for an important distinction between spatial vision and vision that excludes spatial cues in relation to touch. This important new volume extends previous descriptions of bimodal effects in vision and space.