Feb 9, 2016 | By Tess

In 2014, we covered a heartwarming story about 3D printing being used to design and create additively manufactured picture books for children with visual impairments. Now, just a couple years later, the people behind the 3D printed tactile picture book are still hard at work and have created a number of stunning and open source 3D printed children’s stories.

The project, called the ’Tactile Picture Books Project’ was conceived of by Tom Yeh, a professor of computer sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, and his students, who have, to this day, worked to create tactile books suitable for young children who are learning to cope with their blindness.

“The main idea is to represent 2D graphics in a 3D, tactile way on a scale appropriate for young children,” says Yeh. “The team combines this information with computational algorithms—essentially step-by-step instructions for mathematical calculations—to provide a way for parents, teachers, and supporters to 3D print their own picture books.”

3D printing has allowed Yeh and his team of students to go above and beyond in the field of tactile picture books. The stories they create are made up of pages that feature both braille and three dimensional indicative shapes and forms arranged in a way that can be easily followed by a child without sight. The team at University of Colorado Boulder have also turned some children’s classics into 3D printed books, such as ‘Goodnight Moon’, ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’, and ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, allowing children with visual impairments to uniquely experience the well-loved stories.

Caleb Hsu, a student of Yeh’s, also recently worked on recreating the famous biblical tale of Noah’s Ark. He says of the experience, “The process of designing these tactile pictures has been a rather humbling experience. In retrospect, I am struck by how deeply concerned the teachers for the visually impaired were with the individual needs of each child because the creation of the tactile picture book for Noah’s Ark required some relinquishing of my personal agenda. Instead of making a model that was beautiful and interesting to a pair of eyes, I was learning to consider the needs of others in an attempt to make something useful and educational to a pair of hands.”

The idea of putting tactility above visuals can be a challenge for designers, who are so often focused on how things look above all else, but with the help of teachers and other visually impaired experts, the makers at Boulder are making big progress.

For the design of the books, Yeh and his team have been working with CraftML, a modeling software developed by the Sikuli Lab, which was also founded by Tom Yeh at the University of Colorado Boulder. The software itself was developed to create the 3D printed tactile books but has since evolved to be used for any 3D modeling purposes.

The digital files for the tactile children’s books have all been made open source and are available to download via the Tactile Picture Books’s online library, meaning that just about anyone, from educator, to parent, can create a book for their visually impaired child.

3D printing has helped those working in the field of visual impairments make some big advancements. For instance, we learned about pieces of fine art being turned into tactile 3D printed artworks to be experienced by the blind, as well as a whole new form of 3D printed music notation to help visually impaired musicians read music. Just this week as well, Linespace, a tactile display system using a 3D printer print head meant to help the blind read maps and images, was unveiled. As the technology continues to develop there is no doubt that treatments and opportunities for the visually impaired will also improve.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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