On the hottest day of the summer so far in Berlin, Tom Bieling, a 32-year-old doctoral candidate, walked quickly down a corridor on the second floor of a science building mere blocks away from a roundabout that was clogged with police vans.
The police vans -- rectangular Volkswagens in alternating shades of blue and green, the official colors of authority in the German capital -- circled around Ernst Reuter Platz and headed three miles eastward towards Brandenburg Gate, which was where President Obama delivered a speech an hour later under the blazing, 90-degree sun.
Ten minutes before his arrival, Bieling had sent a text message apologizing for running late. His bus had slowed to a crawl that Wednesday afternoon. The president had snarled traffic. Bieling wrote:
"Worst bus in town. Keeps me waiting at Turmstraße. Sorry :-)"
He tapped this text message with his fingers, into an iPhone, that delivered the message to another iPhone. It's very easy to write this sort of message on a bus arriving late -- that is, if your digits are whole and your eyes are functional.
If Bieling were deaf-blind, however, he could not have communicated so easily or quickly.
Precisely for this reason, he has set about developing a new way for the deaf-blind to communicate with the world beyond their fingertips. His innovation takes the form of a computerized glove that translates text into impulses. But his research has a secondary purpose as well. Everything that he has learned about helping the deaf-blind communicate more efficiently could be applied to a new world of tactile communication that could change how we interact.