Printing tactile images for the blind

harvard 3d printed painting

The Midas Touch project team.

Vision is a treasured sense. Our eyes give us one of the most useful representations of the physical world. After all, hearing isn’t required for conversation. An oak tree doesn’t need to be touched to be felt. Sight lets us move around in the fastest, safest modes. And while books can be read in braille, there’s no way to convert paintings into anything that can be enjoyed without sight. Or is there? A group of Harvard students is developing a method to print touchable versions of visual art. They call the project Midas Touch.

3D printed picture for blind

A “relief” is an example of what a 3D printed picture could look like.

The thing about vision is it reveals distance, depth, and color. So artists develop fascinating ways of expressing those in 2D, but all those ways use lines, curls, and colors — things that must be seen. It may be possible to represent depth and distance by “extruding” a painting to be three dimensional using something like the “photo surface height mapping” that the Customizer uses for the Lithopane tool [http://www.3dprinter.net/thing-of-the-week-pictures]. But what about color? Many blind people have never seen colors, so colors have no meaning to them. Applying certain textures to certain colors may work, but what should green feel like?

I don’t have the answers because Midas Touch is still in the prototyping phase. Harvard student Constantine Tarabanis relates, “We want to bridge the gap between the visually impaired and the visual world of art.” Thanks to 3D printing, I believe they’ll get something that blind people will appreciate.

h/t: VentureBeat