June 24, 2014

A University of Colorado Boulder team printed the first 3D version of children's book, allowing visually impaired children and their families to touch objects in the story.

"Goodnight room, goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon..." - "Goodnight Moon", written by Margaret Wise Brown of a bunny in bed wishing good night to his surroundings, has been printed more than 40 million copies and translated into at least a dozen languages. It was a logical choice for CU-Boulder's Tactile Picture Books Project, led by computer science Assistant Professor Tom Yeh to print out this highly popular children's book in 3D.

Graduate student Abigale Stangl (right), a CU-Boulder doctoral student and a volunteer at the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver, shows Isabella Chinkes and her mother, Linda, a 3D version of 'Goodnight Moon.' Photo courtesy Casey Cass, University of Colorado

The idea of tactile picture books is not new, said Yeh. "What is new is making 3D printing more accessible and interactive so parents and teachers of visually impaired children can customize and print these kinds of picture books in 3D," he said.

This spring, Yeh assigned students in his rapid prototyping class to create four 3D pages each from the popular kid's book "Harold and the Purple Crayon," published in 1955 by Crocket Johnson, in which a small boy creates his own world by simply drawing it. They scaled the objects in each page to larger or smaller sizes so blind children can better feel its shape.

The main idea is to represent 2D graphics in a 3D, tactile way on a scale appropriate for the cognitive abilities and interests of young children, said Yeh. The team combines this information with computational algorithms -- essentially step-by-step instructions for mathematical calculations -- providing an interface that allows parents, teachers and supporters to print their own customized picture books using 3D computers.

"Ideally a parent could choose a book, take a picture of a page, send the picture to a 3D printer, which would result in a 3D tactile book," he said. "We are investigating the scientific, technical and human issues that must be addressed before this vision can be fully realized."

Yeh admitted that this project is much more difficult than he envisioned, "but it also is much more rewarding," Yeh said.

The Tactile Picture Books Project was boosted last year by an $8,000 outreach grant from the university, which has helped Yeh's research team collaborate with the Anchor Center for Blind Children, a preschool in Denver, to better understand the needs of visually impaired toddlers and how parents can effectively engage them in reading. One big advantage to tactile 3D children's books is that many blind children do not start learning Braille until they are about six years old, said Yeh.

"The goal is to have parents, teachers and supporters of visually impaired children learn how to use software and 3D printers to make books of their own. Since each child generally has his or her unique visual impairment issues, the idea is to customize each book for each child." said Yeh.

In order to generate more interest in this project, Yeh said that they will be "putting on some workshops in the Denver-Boulder area this summer, teaching people how to make 3D models of children's picture books and printing them."

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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