3D printers are helping the visually-impaired “see”

As 3D printers continue to head mainstream, where they will one day be as ubiquitous as its inkjet predecessors, we can expect to see a number of practical, real-world applications from cars to food to toys. However, aside from cost and convenience factors, some uses will go one step further to truly ‘make’ a difference in the lives of others.

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That’s the basis behind a new project by Spanish creative agency Lola in collaboration with Pirate 3DTouchable Memories is defined by its creators as a social experiment which gave technology an innovative application, testing it in an unexplored field and achieving incredible results, making people aware of the endless possibilities of using technology to make our lives better.

As one of its participants explained, “A memory is something we hold on to, but fades little by little. It’s very important that we can take memories back so we can remember everything we’ve been through in life.”

The collaboration looks to employ Pirate 3D’s Buccaneer 3D printer — which aspires to bring a more wholesome, touchier-feelier spin to the next-gen technology — to recreate old photographs for those who are visually-impaired through tactile printouts.

“We realized that most people were not interested in purchasing a 3D printer for their homes because they didn’t know what use they could give to the technology. We purposefully focused on creating an experience that could only be made possible by 3D printing,” Lola Art Director Fred Bosch told Fast Company.

As you can imagine, this initiative resulted in very touching, heartfelt accounts.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen groundbreaking developments in the 3D printing world to assist those unable to see; in fact, the technology has been used to bring astronomy enthusiasts closer to space’s unexplored territories through non-vision senses.

For instance, Dr. Wanda Díaz-Merced, a blind astrophysicist and computer scientist, has teamed with the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) to create AstroSense, an initiative around the development of tactile astronomy resources and 3D-printed astronomical objects to make astronomical data accessible to people of all abilities.

Similarly, astronomers at Baltimore’s Space Telescope Science Institute have used 3D-printed Hubble telescope images to help those visually-impaired explore the wonders of the final frontier. As Space.com revealed, the scientists modeled stars, dust and gas in plastic using different textures with raised lines and bumps all made from a 3D printer.

“These 3D images make me feel great, because images of space objects were inaccessible and now all of a sudden they are accessible,” one of its project testers explained. “Sure, we cannot see the image, so we don’t know exactly what it looks like. It can never replace pictures, but with this 3D image you can get an idea of what it’s supposed to look like and then use your imagination for the rest.”

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Over time, we can surely expect to see more scientists, researchers and others explore new ways to bring once only visual things to life — a majority of which will be made possibly through [AVR XMEGAmegaAVR and SAM3X8E powered] 3D printers.

1 thought on “3D printers are helping the visually-impaired “see”

  1. Pingback: Rewind: A look back at the top 3D printing stories of 2014 | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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