New tech lets blind, visually impaired people play Trackmania

A French organization is developing technology to give visually impaired people more ability to perceive their environment—and they're using videogames to test and expand it. In the process they've managed to make Trackmania accessible to even those who are totally blind.

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Artha France has developed a haptic feedback belt that transmits information from an input like a camera or screen into sensations on the skin. Using a virutal environment to test the technology was at first a low-stakes way to test it, but seems to have become an end unto itself as the hardware developed.

Trackmania was clearly a choice not just because it's consistent and fairly simple, but because it mimics many real-world challenges, requiring players to have fairly fast insight in consistent environments. Learning to use the tech while playing Trackmania meant that quick reaction was useful.

When testing on the device first started, it would take six to 20 hours for users to learn. By this year new players can pick up and go in an hour. Early video of the tech in action shows off how its first adaptation to a digital environment was a test using a maze built in Minecraft. The next step? Obviously it was putting someone using the haptic rig in an actual underground mine.

Artha's english Youtube channel has more details on the process, breaking down the technology's development over the past few years. It's about eight minutes long and a really fascinating watch if this whole process intrigues you.

Jon Bolding is a games writer and critic with an extensive background in strategy games. When he's not on his PC, he can be found playing every tabletop game under the sun.