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3D Printed “Linespace” Allows Visually Impaired People to Read and Interact with Maps, Diagrams and More

by • February 7, 2016 • No Comments

csm_FIG1_da3d228205The woman stands at a drafting table, her hands resting lightly on the surface. “Berlin center,” she says unquestionably. A voice responds, “Drawing central Berlin,” and a 3D print head lowers into view to lay down a raised map of the Berlin city center along with several tiny circles representing homes for sale. The woman runs her hands over the map, and so lingers on one of the raised circles. She steps on a pedal at the base of the drafting table and asks for additional detail; the voice dutifully responds by quoting the price and specifications of the home in question. Unsatisfied, the woman moves her hands to the left of the printed map. “Expand here,” she says, and the 3D print head returns to extend the map additional into Berlin.

It is called Homefinder, and it’s one of the applications being turn it intod as part of Linespace, a tactile display process that allows for visually impaired folks to interact with maps, diagrams, and other spatial data. A team of researchers at the Hasso Platner Institut (HPI) in Potsdam, Germany have been working on developing the platform, that can be formally added at CHI 2016, a human-computer interaction conference bringing place in San Jose May 7-12.

csm_printhead_filament_769f276814The device consists of a 3D printing device head attached to robotic arms that move it across a drafting table in response to user commands. The print head deposits raised lines of PLA that can be touched and explored with the fingertips; an overhead camera tracks the movements of the user so that it can instruct the extruder to move to where the man is pointing. The print head in addition comes with a scraper to remove the PLA after the user is finished, cleaning the slate for the future application. Users can in addition input new information by drawing it on the board with a 3Doodler; the camera and so captures and records the images.

Linespace is the latest in a series of initiatives that are via 3D printing as a way to expand the tactile resources on the market to blind folks. Braille has been around for ages, and it’s yet working only satisfactory as a way for the visually impaired to read text, but it does not allow for visual images or diagrams to be explored. 3D printing is the ideal solution. Just a few days ago we wrote of the Tactile Picture Books Project, that utilizes 3D printing to turn it into raised pictures that blind children can touch and feel in their storybooks. Linespace is another step forward – an interactive tablet, of sorts, for adults.

And if the board runs out of room?

“…the print head in addition holds an actuated ‘scraper’. It allows for linespace to remove contents by scratching it off. We have not encountered that situation much yet, due to the dimensions of the display,” explains Patrick Baudisch in a comment on the YouTube video (below) demonstrating the device.


“The possibility of easily creating raised images cheaply and efficiently has so far been elusive – so we are excited of this type of development,” said Steve Tyler of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the United Kingdom. “The capacity to easily turn it into diagrammatic, mapping, or additional artistic material for a visually impaired creator is futurely phenomenal.”

RTEmagicC_logo_hpi.jpgThe Linespace applications turn it intod so far by the HPI team include the Homefinder app, an interior create application, a edition of Microsoft Excel, and actually a Minesweeper game. The team, as well as the six folks who have tested the app so far, see a lot of future for gaming, art, education, and additional. Commercializing the innovation is yet in the early discussion stages, but Patrick Baudisch, head of the HPI team, estimates that it may end up costing less than $1,000. I assume additional information can be coming soon, particularly after Linespace’s official unveiling at CHI 2016. What impact do you ponder these tablets can have on the visually impaired community? Discuss in the 3D Printed Tablets for Visually Impaired forum over at 3DPB.com.