Jun 2, 2016 | By Tess

3D printing has been an undeniable boon to the visually impaired community. In recent years, it has helped innovators to realize some truly exceptional ideas, such as 3D printed music notation, 3D printed tactile maps, and 3D printed tactile picture books for visually impaired children. Now, a small company from Windsor, Ontario Canada is hoping to expand the possibilities of 3D printing for the blind by developing a 3D printer specifically designed for printing braille onto 3D objects.

Tactile Vision Graphics, Inc., which was founded some years ago by Rebecca and Emmanuel Blaevoet, produces a number of braille products, currently all paper-based, such as children’s books, maps, and instruction booklets. Seeing the potentials of 3D printing, and understanding the importance of tactility for the visually impaired as Rebecca herself has an impairment, the couple set out to bring braille into the realm of 3D. To get their ambitious project off the ground, the Blaevoet’s have launched an Indiegogo campaign in an effort to raise $15,000 - the cost of developing a 3D printer capable of accurately printing braille onto three dimensional objects.

Of course, Rebecca and Emmanuel are not undertaking the 3D printer development on their own, as they have teamed up with a local 3D printing and design company, Exemor Inc. to help design and build the 3D printer. The crowdfunding campaign, which runs until the end of the month, was initiated after the Blaevoets searched for a 3D printer capable of accurately printing braille and found that nothing on the market suited their exact needs. While it is possible to insert braille into 3D designs through the placement of dots, Rebecca explains how important it is to be standardized, as the spacing, depth, and size of the dots that represent each letter are crucial.

Emmanel and Rebecca Blaevoet

She explains, “Even if you do manage to print braille on something, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be complying with that standard. We have to make sure any 3D printer we get is built to our specific specifications so it fits those standards.” Emmanuel adds, “Three-dimensions are necessary to grasp the concept of depth for a blind person, but when it comes to our specific needs, there’s not a single machine that really it the way we want it to be done.”

Rebecca and Emmanuel say that they have been approached a number of times by people with visual impairments asking them to create braille objects on hard and more tactile surfaces than paper showing that there is market for it. Having, say, a hard plastic sign or object embedded with braille could allow visually impaired people to install them outside, attach them to walls, and better understand their environments. As Rebecca explains in their crowdfunding video, the technology could also help people with visual impairments to better understand diagrams, which cannot be properly grasped in two dimensions without sight.

“Without tactile and braille information, visually impaired people don’t have access to the kind of information that you take for granted,” explains Rebecca. “You (people who aren’t visually impaired) can look at the shape of a building and be able to identify exactly what that looks like. For a vision impaired person, you can touch the bricks on the side of the wall if you want to, but unless you have a tactile drawing of that building or a 3D model of that building, you have no context of where it is you’re walking into when you go in there. It’s a difference between 100 per cent of space recognition and no space recognition.”

In terms of rewards for the crowdfunding campaign, Tactile Vision Graphics, Inc. is offering a variety of things. For a pledge of $5 you will receive a pack of 30 tactile stickers, for $15 you will receive a braille greeting card and bookmark, for $50 a set of 100 braille business cards, for $150 Rebecca and Emmanuel will review your company’s website to see if it is accessible for the visually impaired, for $250 they will design a 2D tactile floor-plan of your office embedded with braille, and for $3000 the couple will fly you out to Windsor, Ontario for a tandem bike tour. As mentioned, the campaign is running until the end of the month, so if you want to support their cause and help in the development of a Braille 3D printer, check out their page here.



Posted in 3D Printer



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