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2017

Blind Culture Artifacts

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Researchers Sari Altschuler and David Weimerare working to explore and publicize artifactsthat demonstrate the history of communicationwith the blind. Before the development andpromulgation of Braille as an improved methodof conveying information through tactilesenses, the most common strategy for makinginformation accessible to blind individualsinvolved translating a normal page into a 3Dversion of itself. Wherever there was ink, therewas a smooth bump detectable to fingers. Tobring such artifacts to the public, Altschuler andWeimer are developing popup exhibits featuring3D printed versions of the artifacts found in the Perkins School’s archives. Ultimately, institutions and museums across the country will be able to host their own exhibits by downloading a set of files and reproducing the artifacts in printed form.

 

The Project

Enabling Engineering offeredtechnical assistance to developprinting methodologies and createdigital representations of theartifacts. To be able to print replicasof the Perkins School’s artifacts, theteam needed to capture the artifacts’physical intricacies in STL files—themost common format for 3D printing.After finding that 3D scanning wouldbe an inadequate solution due tolimitations of the technology, the remaining options included creating an STL file using a 2D image or modeling each artifact by hand using CAD software. Given the scope of this project and the artifacts relative inaccessibility, the team chose the first option and developed an image processing algorithm in MATLAB that generates an STL file from an image of each artifact. The algorithm goes through any given image pixel-by-pixel, assigning each a specific height value depending on its grayscale color.

 

Current Status

The methodology to print the artifacts has been developed and a collection of artifacts has been printed. A grant proposal to support this project was submitted.