Braille Maps for Blind and Visually Impaired Created with 3-D Printing Technology at Rutgers

Using a high-tech 3-D printer, a Rutgers undergraduate and his professor created sophisticated braille maps to help blind and visually impaired people navigate a local training center.

The three plastic tactile maps are for each floor at the Joseph Kohn Training Center, a state-funded facility for the blind and visually impaired in New Brunswick. And the goal is to print maps for all of the center’s students.

“It was a very fulfilling experience,” said Jason Kim, 25, a senior mechanical engineering student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in Rutgers’ School of Engineering. “I learned a lot. 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.”

Howon Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering whose research focuses on 3-D printing, said the maps are a form of GPS for the blind and visually impaired.

“Design, using this technology, practicing – everything is important – but I think what is more important is to put yourself in their shoes,” Lee said.

Joseph Kohn Training Center staffers lauded the durable maps, saying they would be very helpful for center students. The center has clunky, old wooden maps with a few braille labels on walls.

Professor Lee said he got the idea of making 3-D maps after visiting the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea. The institute created educational materials for small children with a 3-D printer, and he was impressed.

A 3-D 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, Lee said.

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