A lot of posts this week focused on the impossibility for the impaired user to move some parts of his body, resulting in the inability to use mice or keyboards. Therefore, I wanted to have a view on different kinds of disability, and ended up searching specific devices used for blind people. The weekly reading already mention all the common devices that can be used, such as Braille displays and keyboards, or speech synthesizers. But one characteristic that all of these devices have in common is that they are text-only. Maybe the reason for that is that most people who are legally bling can still see a little bit and therefore a screen magnifier is enough for images and graphics; however there are people out there that are 100% blind and for them it’s often hard to visualize such graphics.
After some searches, I made an interesting finding in the form of Linespace, a device developed in 2016 by the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany using 3D printing to enable perceiving visual information though touch. The idea itself is rather simple: the device takes the form of a kind of drawing table, on which a modified 3D printer is mounted. Taking voice commands and scanning a finger position as inputs, the device can print graphics in the form of thin lines of plastic that the blind person can then explore with his fingers.
A test application has been made for the presentation of the product, where the user can select a city by voice control, whose map will then be printed with some points representing apartments available for rent. Using voice control again, the user can point an area of the map and ask the device to zoom in or ask information about a specific point.
An interesting aspect is that not only does it enable blind people to have a representation of visual information, but it also allows them to select things by just touching them thanks to the finger tracking capability of the device. In that sense, Linespace has something in common with touchscreens, that devices designed for blind people generally don’t have.
The main downside of that system, outside of its potential cost, is the time required to display the information. Even for simple patterns, the printer can take several dozen seconds. (Video example below.)