Hands on search with the Atmel-powered MakerBot

Imagine a future where visually impaired individuals can learn about the world via touch – using a plethora of 3D objects printed right inside their classrooms. Well, the future is here now because MakerBot has teamed up with Yahoo Japan for a Hands On Search Pilot program.

Indeed, the two companies recently helped facilitate the creation a custom device built around an Atmel-powered MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer for a classroom of visually impaired students at the University of Tsukuba.

“Students used the device’s voice recognition software to search for objects, and the device’s built-in MakerBot Replicator 2 enabled them to print objects right away,” MakerBot’s Ben Millstein explained in a recent blog post. “Meanwhile, Yahoo Japan curated a special database filled with 3D-printable designs for the students, many of which were sourced from the MakerBot Thingiverse 3D Design Community.”

In an effort to encourage online collaboration, Yahoo Japan also posted a wish-list of items students hadn’t been able to find, including some tough ones like “Thunder” and “Tornado.” In addition, 3D modelers were encouraged to contribute their own designs to fulfill student requests.

“After a successful pilot at the University of Tsukuba, Hands On Search is expanding, with plans to bring devices to seven schools for the visually impaired across Japan,” Millstein added. “We can only imagine what it’s like for a visually impaired student to touch the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty and get an impression of its shape and appearance for the first time—thanks to 3D printing.”

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