We often get the question “What practical applications are there for 3D printing” and often, assistive technology is one of the only answers that naysayers will agree with. It’s hard to argue that 3D printing an articulating hand for a child without one is a bad use of any technology. Many others are looking at additional ways 3D printing can be used to help people with varied needs. Now the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, is releasing their research on the project they call Linespace, a graphic plotter that uses a 3D printing extruder to create tactile drawings for the blind. This is probably the most accurate use of the term 3D printing we have seen yet.
Linespace works by taking voice commands from the user and then plotting the desired results on a 140cm × 100cm (~55″ × ~39″) surface. A 3D printer extruder places a one layer thick line onto the bed, allowing the user to feel the texture of the lines that have been drawn. A camera tracking system enables the user to interact with the system by picking out points in the drawing, or letting the user determine where they would like the system to draw next. While the prototype system would require a lot of setup time between drawing due to the blue tape bed coating, hopefully a more automated self-cleaning system could be created for future versions.
The Human Computer Interaction lab at HPI has been releasing numerous other incredible digital fabrication projects over the past few years, including some of my favorites: WirePrint and faBrickation. You can find out more about Linespace when the team (comprised of Saiganesh Swaminathan, Thijs Roumen, Robert Kovacs, David Stangl, Stefanie Mueller, and Patrick Baudisch), release their research paper as part of CHI 2016 conference. Congratulations guys, keep up the great work!