A blind Japanese professor has prototyped a wireless phone with an integrated vibrating Braille display:
A former teacher at a school for the blind and a professor from Tsukuba University of Technology have developed a cell phone that sends out vibrations representing Braille symbols to enable people with sight and hearing difficulties to communicate… When a caller pushes numbers on the keypad corresponding to Braille symbols, two terminals attached to the receiver’s phone vibrate at a specific rate to create a message.
Japanese Braille uses six dots to represent the Japanese syllabary. Using the numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8, on cell phones to represent these six dots, it’s possible to form Braille symbols. The developers are now working to make the devices that convert keypad information into vibrations smaller than their current size (16 centimeters by 10 centimeters). If vibration-based Braille is applied more widely, it may enable information to be “broadcast” to several blind people at once.
The idea of representing one bit of Braille with one cell phone key has a certain elegance, but I’m not sure how useful it would be. Readers of Braille are used to using their fingertips, not their entire palms. On the other hand, the article is so vague that I might not even be understanding what they’re up to.