Tactile display lets the blind perform 3D printing and CAD

Researchers from Stanford University have created a new tactile display that aims to allow the blind and visually impaired to access 3D printing and computer-aided design (CAD). The touch-based display can mimic the geometry of the 3D objects on a computer. The researchers say that while design tools empower users to create and contribute to society, the tools also limit those who can participate.The work is part of a larger effort in the lab of Sean Follmer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, to develop tactile displays. The display that the researchers have created looks a bit like the toys that many may have seen at retail stores. These toys tend to have lots of pins and can replicate whatever is pushed under them from behind, and the pins make a 3D shape on its surface.

The Stanford device has a field of tall, rectangular pegs that move up and down. When the specifications for size and shape are entered into a 3D modeling program, the pins move to create the dimensions of the object so it can be felt. The display supports the ability to rotate a 3D model, zoom in and out, and show it in split sections. The team says that it can do things like show the top and bottom of the cup in sections beside it.

The display is considered 2.5D rather than 3D because the bottom of the display doesn't change shape. The team codesigned the system with people who are blind or visually impaired. They say that this process was integral to making it meet the needs of the users.

Testing involved five people who were blind or visually impaired. Researchers say that the system received very positive feedback. Many of the test users aksed to keep the 3D objects they created using the system. In the future, the team wants to improve the scale, affordability, and resolution of the display.