Computing scientists at Glasgow University are asking educationists and others to challenge them to find new ways of using three-dimensional computer technology to communicate information.
Glasgow's new Revelation project aims to revolutionise the way computers are used in education and the community.
The team, led by Malcolm Atkinson, is already investigating how a blind person could feel their way round a bar chart to discover how their party is faring in the opinion polls, and how trainee vets could feel the difference between healthy and diseased organs in a virtual horse.
"It's like trying to explain 30 years ago what a computer might be used for," Professor Atkinson said.
"Whatever your field of interest, whatever your problem, the Revelation technology can change your way of looking at the world. Our goal is not to replace the book, but to do things that a book can't do."
The project, backed by more than Pounds 600,000 from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, uses a wide range of equipment. Central to the project is a specialised combination of cameras, projectors and turntable called C3D. This device captures images of an object, such as a skull or archaeological artefact, and the team can then build these images up into a 3D digital model that can be manipulated and viewed.
The team is using haptic or force-feedback technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in which users wear thimble-like sensors on their fingers.
"The computer essentially pushes against your finger. If something is soft, there's springiness, or you can feel when something's vibrating," Professor Atkinson said.
Veterinary staff have said they feel around 80 per cent of the sensations they get when dealing with real animals. The technology means students can receive initial training without disturbing animals. And it ends the problem of finding an animal with a particular condition just when that disease comes up in the course.