by • February 7, 2016 • No Comments
Blind and partially sighted individuals frequently use tactile displays to interact with computers. These raised sets of Braille-like plastic pins work well for reading text and controlling an operating process. But how of for handling visual information such as maps, photos and creations?
A new kind of display called Linespace offers an alternative. Developed at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, it consists of the head of a 3D printing device attached to a drafting table of the type utilized by designers and architects. The print head is attached to arms and motors which allow it to move rapidly over the table.
The equipment is activated via a pedal and regulated with speech and gestures, enabling users to verbally call up and print images in the form of raised plastic lines. Printed shapes can and so be explored by fingertip. The user can request extra additional detail by pointing to where they want it on the surface,
by tracking of an overhead depth camera.
“The objective is to let blind users visualise and manufacture sense of rigorous spatial data only like sighted individuals,” says Patrick Baudisch, who leads the HPI team. Linespace can be presented at CHI 2016, a computer-human interaction conference in San Jose, California, in May.
Baudisch’s team has written a number of apps for Linespace, which include a simplified option of Microsoft Excel for printing dimensionsable tables and charts, an interior-design box, and a game called Minesweeper.
One app called Homefinder allows for individuals to search for a new apartment on a city map. Users can gesture at areas they want to zoom in on and get a feel for where on the market, inexpensive
properties are in relation to roads, public transport and shops. If the user wants to input new information, they can use the 3Doodler – a handheld 3D-printing pen – to draw it and the overhead camera can capture it.
Linespace was well-received in tests with six blind and sight-impaired volunteers of varying backgrounds, which include a teacher, an artist, a programmer and a social worker. They saw scope for its use in education, for producing maps and artwork accessible, and for gaming and sharing information.
But it was the dimensions which grabbed them: “It’s excellent to have such a big area where we can put information,” said one user, with the talent to print an overview map as well as a piece of zoomed-in additional detail particularly welcome.
”The possibility of easily creating raised images cheaply and efficiently has so far been elusive – so we are excited of this type of development,” says Steve Tyler at the lab of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in Peterborough, UK. “The talent to easily turn it into diagrammatic, mapping, or additional artistic material for a visually impaired creator is potentially phenomenal.”
The RNIB has itself performed experimental work in this area, Tyler says. “The challenge is keeping the innovation inside financial reach and ensuring ease of use.”
Baudisch estimates which a commercial option of Linespace may cost less than $1000. “We have been debating commercialising it, so it may be great to hear of interested folks,” he says.More on these topics: Technology
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