Washington | Using a high-tech 3D printer, scientists have created sophisticated braille maps to help blind and visually impaired people independently navigate through their surroundings. The three plastic tactile maps have been created for each floor at the Joseph Kohn Training Centre, a facility for the blind and visually impaired in US.
The most difficult part was trying to imagine what it would be like to be blind myself so I could better tackle the problem, and it opened my eyes to the whole visually impaired and blind community, said Jason Kim, a student at Rutgers University. Howon Lee, an assistant professor at Rutgers University said the maps are a form of Global Positioning System (GPS) for the blind and visually impaired.
A 3D printer – very similar to an inkjet printer – uses computer-aided design software. The technology was developed in the 1980s, but advancements have accelerated in the last five years, Lee said. Instead of printing letters on top of a two-dimensional sheet, you just do this over and over again, layer upon layer, until you have a final three-dimensional product, Lee said.
One of the things we saw with conventional braille printed on paper is that it doesn’t last long, Lee said. The new maps – made with state-of-the-art 3D printers – are a little larger than a small computer tablet. They are in a binder so students can easily carry them for reference. They also have a legend, or guide, in braille, a feature missing from prior maps.
The legend helps limit the amount of map training needed. Lee said there is only one copy of the maps so far and the goal is to lower map-making costs so every student at the training centre gets a map on day one. The idea is to give freedom, extended freedom, to navigate and go from one place to another without worrying too much, Lee said.
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