3D Printing Helps The Blind To See


With today’s technological breakthroughs, one never knows what to expect next.

In the old days, people would marvel at new inventions and exclaim, “Will wonders never cease?”.  Well, when you look at some of the inventions of today, that old expression holds up, especially in a new way that the blind can see with 3D printing!

With this application, blind and people with partial sight can experience a new way of seeing with a process called Linespace.  What Linespace is, the head of a 3D printer that is attached to a drafting table, similar to the kind that architects, designers, and engineers use.  The print head is then attached to movable arms via motors that allow the arm and printer head to move quite rapidly across the surface of the table thus delivering a tangible raised image on the surface of the table.  This allows for the user to use their fingers to get an idea of what an object presented on a computer actually feels like.

Basically, let’s say the user is searching for a picture of a camera.  The 3D printer then goes to work creating a raised image that the user can feel and get a better picture of what the object looks like.

This can be used to allow for users to feel what products, or people, animals, and whatever might look like via just the touch of their fingertips.

The device is activated via a pedal and one can use speech or gestures to initiate a print image in the form of the raised 3D plastic lines.  The user can even request extra detail be added by addressing to the area they want more information on.  An overhead tracking camera does the imaging job.

In May, 2016, Linespace will be presented to the CHI (computer human interaction) in San Jose, California. The developer of the process is Patrick Baudisch who leads the HPI team that brought Linespace to reality.  Their group has also created a series of apps for the Linespace project.  The spectrum of apps spans from simple designs to games and even maps.

Once the process is perfected, it might lend itself to other applications not only for the blind or sight impaired.  Somewhere some developer will take it apart and find a use in entertainment and education.  With the advances in 3D printing, there could also be textured imagery for the blind to detect.  3D printers can use several substances to print from.  Let’s say an object has fur like a lion or big cat or other animal.  A 3D printed image with some furry texture could help the impaired to experience and visualize what such a creature might look like.

This could also lend itself to lots of fun at parties as well.  The combination of possibilities will make this technology stand out as something many developers, technicians, and researchers will take part in.  Most of all, it will allow the blind and seeing impaired experience a whole new level of reality.  One whereby they won’t be left out of valuable information that can enhance their quality of life.

About the author

Warren Simons