Aug 31, 2015 | By Alec

3D printers have been used to build fun and new games and game pieces for as long as commercial 3D printers themselves have existed, but we’ve rarely seem something as amazing as what one engineer from Yale University came up with. Adam Spiers has developed a remarkable immersive story-telling game set in the complete darkness of an abandoned London church, in which players can navigate through rooms and events using a 3D printed guidance cube that points them in the right direction. This combination of mechanical engineering, theatre and a fantastic location could be the best game ever, or it could be absolutely creepy.

Adam Spiers is a postdoc associate in the robotics lab of professor Aaron Dollar at Yale University, but he was also involved in less serious projects like this interactive game. Called ‘Flatland’, it has been based on story by Edwin A. Abbott's of a two-dimensional world (1884). Specifically intended for visually impaired and sighted players, they were kept in almost complete darkness as they wandered through the old building. Moving from room to room in teams of four, a spoken narrative and a series of interesting sound effects supplied the gripping story.

The only thing that had to go on was the story, as well as a set of 3D printed cubes. Originally called the Haptic Sandwich, Spiers has since named the cube an Animotus, as it was named like that as part of the Flatland story. These cubes are essentially GPS-like guidance tools that change shape to guide the holder in the right direction. The top half, as you can see in the clip below, changes position relative to the holder’s position in the building, guiding them towards the next destination. And as it is set in complete darkness, the moving half enables navigation by touch. Some hapless reaching around was probably also used.

But there is more to this device than being useful in the dark. For it essentially a navigation device that could be used in everyday situation by people suffering from bad sight or blindness. While the rest of us rely on smartphones nowadays, that isn’t for everyone. ‘The simple idea is that when you’ve arrived at your target destination, it becomes a little cube again,’ Spiers said on the university website.

The game itself was produced by London-based Extant, and was meant to be as enjoyable to sighted and normal people. The production company itself employs numerous visually impaired people. They have been working with Spiers since 2010, and have previously received funding from the British government for their studies. Their navigation solution cleverly is shape-changing, something that sounds brilliant for this function, but was hardly done before in the field of haptics.

Many other haptics-based devices for the blind rely on vibration, but Spiers says that those can become annoying for the user. Audio is even more distracting, he adds. ‘Sound is pretty much how [blind and visually impaired people] appreciate the world,’ he said. ‘If you visit a city, you look around and you get an impression. That’s what visually impaired people do also, but with audio.’ So far, the Flatland project to test these haptic devices was successful. All participants wore large suits full of monitoring equipment to see how they were doing. While you could assume these devices are distracting, the results actually found that participants were very effective at moving around. They only walked .3 meters less per second than average. 'That implies that they were pretty confident as they were moving around,’ Piers said. ‘They only slowed down a little bit, despite being guided through an unknown dark space by a wholly unfamiliar technology.’

And that the devices grew on the users was also quite evident towards the end of the production. At the climax, participants were guided to a spot where the devices were confiscated. Sounds of equipment being destroyed particularly shocked them. ‘Some people found this very upsetting,’ Spiers said. ‘It’s about 40 minutes that they were in there with the Animotus, so they got pretty emotionally attached to it.’

This suggests that there is a lot of potential in these 3D printed navigation sensors, and Spiers is eager to try them in other situations. Among others, Spiers wants to test their use for non-visually impaired people as well, to enable tourists and hikers to fully appreciate their surroundings without staring at maps all the time. ‘I’d like to try this out for the outdoors — hook it up to Google Maps and see what happens,’ he said.




Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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RSR wrote at 9/1/2015 1:23:02 AM:

pretty cool, useless considering I have the whole world wide web in the palm of my hand, google maps has never let me down, but that said, its still cool! i want one for my sailboat!

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