Finding your way around an unfamiliar building can be tricky for anyone, but its far more difficult for people with visual impairments. A pair of researchers at Rutgers University School of Engineering came up with a way of improving the situation for students at a training center for the blind and visually impaired in New Brunswick by 3D-printing detailed braille maps of the facility.

The maps were developed by Jason Kim, a senior mechanical engineering student, and Howon Lee, an assistant professor, for the state-funded Joseph Kohn Training Center. The Center provides blind and visually impaired students with free, 20-week training courses that give them the skills they'll need to attend college, secure jobs or become independent homemakers.

There are maps on the walls of the facility to help its students get around, but they only feature limited braille labels, and their fixed nature severely limits their usefulness and convenience. Created by undergraduate Jason Kim and his professor Howton Lee, the new 3D-printed maps would offer more convenience for students.

The maps themselves were designed using SolidWorks 3D modelling computer-aided design (CAD) software, with one for each of the building's three floor. The maps are about the size of a tablet computer and are designed to be carried around in a single binder. They are also more durable than conventional braille printed on paper and feature a braille legend to help students better understand the map.

The researchers have currently only produced a single set of the maps, but are working to lower the cost of production so that every student at the facility can have one.

On a broader scale, with 3D printers being much cheaper and more convenient than ever before, there are few barriers to extending the idea beyond the facility. Already, the researchers have expressed interest in making similar products for Rutgers' campuses and the city of New Brunswick.

Source: Rutgers University