Using a high-tech 3D printer, a Rutgers University undergraduate and his professor have created sophisticated braille maps to help blind and visually impaired people navigate their surroundings.
The three plastic tactile maps are for each floor at the Joseph Kohn Training Centre, a state-funded facility for the blind and visually impaired in New Brunswick. The goal now is to print maps for all of the center's students.
"It was a very fulfilling experience," said Jason Kim, senior mechanical engineering student in Rutgers' school of engineering.
"The most difficult part was trying to imagine what it would be like to be blind myself so I could better tackle the problem, and it opened my eyes to the whole visually impaired and blind community," he added in a university statement.
Howon Lee, assistant professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said the maps are a form of GPS for the blind and visually impaired. Professor Lee got the idea of making 3D maps after visiting the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea.
The institute created educational materials for small children with a 3D printer. A 3D printer -- very similar to an inkjet printer -- uses computer-aided design software. The technology was developed in the 1980s, but advancements have accelerated in the last five years. The team visited the centre several times to get feedback from faculty and students.
They finished designing the map near the end of last summer. The new maps -- made with state-of-the-art 3D printers at Rutgers -- are a little larger than a small computer tablet. The idea is to "give freedom, extended freedom, to navigate and go from one place to another without worrying too much," the authors noted.