Texas A&M student 3D prints tactile maps of campus for the visually impaired

3D printing technologies have helped to make a difference in the lives of many people across the globe, and in so many ways. Soon, thanks to the ingenuity of a freshman engineering student, the lives of the visually impaired at the Texas A&M University will also be changed for the better with the help of 3D printing. The student, named Tyler Wooten, has been developing a 3D printed tactile map embossed with braille to help the college’s visually impaired students better understand the university campus and navigate it more easily.

Wooten conceived of the idea for the tactile map while taking a 3D printing course at Texas A&M’s Engineering Innovation Center (EIC) last year. Since then, he has been working closely with a fellow student, Kaitlyn Kellermeyer, to turn his idea into a useful and usable reality.

Kellermeyer, an economics student at Texas A&M, lost eyesight in her left eye as a baby and only recently (in 2014) lost eyesight in her right eye as well, leaving her completely blind. For the past two years, Kelleymeyer has struggled to become accustomed to having no eyesight and has depended on help from her friends to help her get to class and the like. She explains, “I had memories of where everything was relationally. With all the open space on campus, and with the lack of auditory cues, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get around.”

Kellermeyer has also been a key figure in advocating for new and innovative projects around campus to help the visually impaired, which made her the ideal candidate to work with Wooten on developing his 3D printed tactile maps. Since they’ve teamed up, Kellermeyer has given insight, tested, and provided feedback about how the maps should be designed and feel. According to the visually impaired student, the project has given her more freedom and has made all the difference in helping her to navigate around her university.

Wooten, for his part, designed the 3D campus map using SolidWorks software and 3D printed a number of prototypes using the EIC’s in-house 3D printers. Being relatively new to the technology, Wooten went through some trial and error, but with the help of other students and faculty got into the swing of things relatively easily. As he explained in an interview: “For main campus, I had a picture of the map up on one screen, and I had SolidWorks open on my other screen and I was just eyeballing it, drawing all of the buildings. Enough people had heard about it that they taught me how to do it better. Now I can take a screenshot of the map, put it in SolidWorks and just trace the buildings.”

In the end, the 3D printed tactile maps of campus were printed using PLA and are only 1/4 of an inch thick, making them easy to carry around. To account for the size of the campus, Wooten has separated the whole map into different sections, each measuring 5 x 9inches, which can be easily assembled by sliding them together. Wooten, who invested his own money for the 3D printing materials, said that each section took roughly 5 hours to print.

To read the rest of this article, published in 3ders.org, please click here.