Tag Archives: 3d print

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.


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.”


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.

3D printing with ancient fossils

Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals and plants, as well as other organisms from the remote past. They are often buried  in sediment under ancient seas, lakes and rivers. Once excavated, fossils can be carefully studied, allowing scientists to bolster their understanding of life on ancient Earth.

Although detailed images of fossils are readily available online, hands-on interaction with such specimens is understandably limited due to the two-dimensional format of standard pictures.

A 3D database maintained by the British Geological Service hopes to change the way we interact with fossils by allowing site visitors to download and create fossil models on 3D printers such as the Atmel-powered Makerbot or RepRap.

According to 3Ders, the database is billed as the world’s first 3D virtual fossil collection which can be searched by taxonomic group, species, genus, geological age, locality and country.

“Users can browse, zoom in, rotate and download the interactive 3D models and metadata, as well as high-resolution images and stereo (anaglyph) photographs,” the publication explained. “The 3D models may [also] be viewed and/or downloaded in PLY and OBJ formats.”

Bits & Pieces readers may also want to check out the website of Martin Galese, a 31-year-old lawyer in New York who routinely searches the USPTO (US Patent Office) archives for the design DNA of antique inventions – subsequently “reinterpreting” them as design files for 3D printers. Indeed, Galese has already printed a chopstick holder from the 1960s, a portable chess set from the 1940s, a pot scraper from 1875 and a 1989 bookmark / pen holder.

As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the Maker Movement has used Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now, but it is quite clear that 3D printing recently entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces, including the medical sphere, architectural arena and scientific field.