Wednesday, February 10, 2016

3D Printing Technology to Benefit the Visually Impaired

               Three-dimensional printing technology continues to make huge advances every day. The medical capabilities of 3D printing are rising in popularity and are making several headlines in recent news. There is talk that 3D printed organs and tissues are on the horizon, 3D printing has become an easier way to produce braille, etc. This article focuses on a new application called “Homefinder,” developed by the company Linespace, which uses 3D printing and a drafting table to create maps and other diagrams for visually impaired people to read and analyze by touch.
               These applications, like Homefinder, have incredible potential. Though Homefinder is still in its early stages, it is a very practical invention. The point that the article made about how “braille has been around for ages… but it doesn’t allow for visual images or diagrams to be explored,” is something that I had not given much thought, but is true. The application allows people not only to feel maps, but it also circles places to mark homes for sale, erases and draws things at a larger scale, and can be interactive.
Homefinder’s interactive components give the user the ability to hear more about information about the diagrams. By stepping on a pedal below the table, Homefinder uses audio to go into more detail about the map (the prices of the homes for sale, the square footage, etc.) The person can also write on the table using a 3D pen to “input new information.” The interaction between the application and the user is what I find to be the most important aspect of Homefinder.
Lastly, Homefinder is only one of the new applications that Linespace is developing. The article also names a few more apps that they are working on: an interior design app, something like Microsoft Excel, and games also. If this technology is a success, visually impaired people worldwide could have multiple new resources. I think Linespaces’ applications would be perfect in schools for the blind, rehabilitation centers, and even private residences.  
The article could have gone more into where and when this company plans on selling the product. It does say the price is expected to be around $1000, which is much less than I expected. But I am wondering whether they will be advertised soon. There is a brief paragraph that describes what the machine looks like (“3D printer head attached to robotic arms”) but they could go into more detail about the software, since it is what truly makes the whole machine function. Finally, I liked that they included a YouTube video of Homefinder being used, but I also would have liked to see or read about how the machine is put together to create the finished product. It would be interesting to watch the work that is put into making applications like these.

Overall, Homefinder is like nothing I have ever heard of. I think that Linespace will see success, when Homefinder is released because it is an invention that is helpful, unique, and promising. 


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