Nov 18, 2015 | By Benedict

Finnish 3D printing firm Versoteq has completed a pilot 3D printed map project in collaboration with Slush 2015, in which the additive experts 3D printed a set of tactile maps to help Slush attendees navigate the huge tech startup event. The project doubled up as research for Versoteq’s forthcoming online 3D map generating project.

It goes without saying that a 3D printed object can provide a more complete visual representation than a 2D image. A 3D printed figure of a person, for example, can be viewed from several angles, providing a perfect sense of proportion that is often obscured by 2D images. But what is perhaps less frequently considered is how 3D printed representations can be touched as well as seen. The precise contours and crevices of an object, only vaguely hinted at by 2D images, can be fully explored and investigated when constituting part of a 3D print. The significance of the tactile element of 3D printing has inspired Versoteq to explore the possibilities of developing 3D printed tactile maps in order to provide a better sense of navigation to the visually impaired. The company’s interest in 3D maps spans two connected projects: the aforementioned 3D printed maps at Slush 2015, and a long-term online project which will allow users to generate their own 3D maps using open source street view data.

“From the beginning of the company we've always wanted to create something with 3D printing which truly adds value to the users of our products,” explained Tram Nguyen, Sales and Business Developer at Versoteq. “We soon realized that visually impaired people can benefit a lot from 3D printing and began to test out different products for them. We started by making maps with FDM for the Goalball World Championship 2014 held in Finland. We got a lot of positive feedback from the users, who were blind athletes. After that we did a couple more pilots with the City of Espoo on designing maps for a railway station and shopping mall area, then started to looking into how to automate 3D mapmaking and received funding from CreatiFI to develop the TactMap service.”

Slush 2015 took place between 11-12 November in Helsinki, Finland. The event bills itself as “the focal point for startups and tech talent to meet with top-tier international investors, executives and media”, and this year attracted 15,000 attendees and 1,700 startups. Versoteq approached Slush about developing a tactile 3D printed map for the event, and the tech-hungry organizers of the startup festival were happy to collaborate. Whilst the 3D printed maps for Slush were not created specifically for the visually impaired, users responded positively to the chunky charts, acknowledging that the 3D maps made the locations of certain roads and buildings much more apparent. To create the 3D printed Slush maps, Versoteq combined blueprints of the buildings with external data, before placing 3D models of individual stages onto an indoor map. Additional information was added to the maps in elevated letters and Braille. Far from being physical plans alone, the 3D printed maps could be transformed into virtual 3D maps by attendees with smartphones. The slush program and agenda could also be retrieved by engaging with the map’s QR code.

The 3D printed Slush 2015 maps measured 52 x 30cm, with a height of up to 2.5cm. Versoteq printed in full color sandstone, having previously used full color plastic for other maps. Each map came at a four-figure price for the Finnish additive firm, but the company hopes to reduce these costs for future projects. Printing time for the four 3D maps amounted to one week. “This kind of project takes time when it is meant to define the software we're developing to automate the process,” said Nguyen. “We started the iteration and design a few months ago and the design was finished a few weeks before Slush so that Alphaform, our 3D printing partner, had time to print the maps.”

Versoteq is also working on an exciting new web tool, which will allow users to create 3D maps using open source street view data. TactMap will enable to users to generate 3D printable maps, which can then be printed at home or at a user’s local 3D printing hub. The Slush project allowed Versoteq to try out various features of TactMap, gaining invaluable user feedback in the process. The site is currently in its alpha phase, with a beta version launching in early 2016. We greatly look forward to generating and 3D printing tactile maps of our hometowns and favorite places.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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