Stanford University researchers have developed a new tactile display that will allow blind and visually impaired people to use 3D printing and computer-aided design (CAD). A touch-based display simulates the geometry of a 3D object on a computer. The researchers say current design tools give users the ability to create and contribute to society, but they also limit those who can participate.
Sean Follmer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, has developed the tactile display, which looks a bit like a toy that many people see in retail stores. These toys often have a lot of pins that can replicate anything from behind pressing under them and form a three-dimensional shape on their surface.
Stanford’s equipment has a high rectangular nail field that can move up and down. When the size and shape specifications are entered into a 3D modeling program, the pin moves to create the size of the object so that the blind can feel it. The display supports rotating 3D models, zooming in and out, and displaying 3D models in split sections. This display is considered 2.5D rather than 3D because the bottom of the display does not change the shape. The team worked with the blind or visually impaired to design the system. They say this process is essential to meeting user needs.
The tests involved five people who were blind or visually impaired. The researchers say the system has received very positive feedback. Many test users want to preserve 3D objects created using the system. In the future, the research and development team hopes to increase the size, price and resolution of the display.