Feb 9, 2016 | By Benedict

Members of the Hasso Plattner Institut (HPI), a computer science and mechanical engineering organization, have developed a tactile display system for the blind using a 3D printer print head. Linespace features a 140x100cm display area on which raised tactile lines are created by the 3D printer.

Since the introduction of tactile display systems, computing has become much more accessible to the blind and partially sighted. Dispensing with the traditional computer monitor, visually impaired computer users can now plug in special machines which reproduce braille and small segments of tactile information right on their desktop and in real time.

These devices allow users to consume textual and numerical information, but remain limited in their ability to reproduce large, detailed images. Enter Linespace: a sizable tactile display system designed specifically for that purpose. Using the print head of a 3D printer, Linespace reproduces images in tactile form, enabling partially sighted users to perceive large quantities of visual data.

Linespace uses the print head of a 3D printer to squeeze liquid PLA onto the 140x100cm display, producing raised lines which users can feel with their fingertips. A scraper fitted to the print head can then remove those lines to clear the display for a new 3D printed image. To control the display, users can press a foot switch to enter text and issue commands, whilst the machine can also recognize speech and gestures.

The speech and command recognition functions allow a Linespace user to “call up” images and to focus on a particular area by pointing in its direction. An overhead depth camera is able to recognize these commands, upon which further detail can be added to the area in question by the 3D printer print head.

“We use Linespace to give blind users access to the type of software packages that normally only sighted people can access, namely the type of software that helps them to make sense of complex data,” explained HPI’s Patrick Baudisch. “So far, we have created a simple ‘Homefinder' program, a spreadsheet program that can read and write Microsoft Excel, two simple games, and a simple programming environment.”

The Homefinder program allows Linespace users to search for apartments on a city map. Users can gesture at specific areas to “zoom in” and discover available properties in that region. Further information can be inputted using a 3Doodler 3D printing pen, whose markings will be recognized by the overhead camera.

The Hasso Plattner Institut, based in Potsdam, Germany, aims to unite the domains of computer science and mechanical engineering by creating and re-purposing fabrication machines and haptic machinery.

Linespace will be presented at CHI 2016, a computer-human interaction conference in San Jose, California, May 7-12.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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