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A theatre company has developed a ‘cube’ to allow blind people to engage more fully with the experience of live theatre.

The cube is being used in conjunction with performances of Flatland (a production held in total darkness) by Extant, the UK’s only professional performing arts company of visually impaired artists. Engineering applicants should consider the applications of such a device external to the theatre set, such as the potential for this cube to replace guide dogs and walking canes in giving visually impaired people a heightened sense of space and direction.

The cube is a robotic hand-held device which communicates through a sense of touch. The cube turns and shifts in user’s hands, similar to a compass, to guide them around various locations in the theatre, using vibrations to signal changes in direction for the user.  Radio signals monitor tags attached to the audience and send instructions via WiFi to the cube devices in real time, giving each theatre goer a unique, attuned experience with the rest of the crowd.

The haptic device was created by Ad Spiers from Yale University’s centre for robot manipulation and biomechanics. Ad noted the obtrusiveness and distraction that many haptic devices, such as mobile phones and games controllers, can cause through vibrating loudly, and instead sought to create a more subtle, unobtrusive sensation for users of the cube. The technology has recently been supported by £125,000 from the government to further fund innovation.

The production is based on the 1884 satirical novella by Edwin Abbott, about a two-dimensional world of two-dimensional characters. The deprivation of the novel, and the desciprion of the dark homeland of Flatland, is brought to the audience via the deprivation of sight and reliance on the cube’s guidance. English applicants should consider the ramifications of this device on the storytelling of the play, considering sensory deprivation in film and theatre as a narrative device.

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