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Photo courtesy Casey Cass, University of Colorado
Graduate student Abigale Stangl (right), a CU-Boulder doctoral student and a volunteer at the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver, shows Isabella Chinkes and her mother Linda a 3D version of Goodnight Moon.
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3D-printed Goodnight Moon
Yeh's team's Goodnight Moon 3D-printed prototype.
A rapid prototyping expert has revealed his vision to bring stories to life for visually impaired children using 3D printing.
University of Colorado Boulder Computer Science Assistant Professor Tom Yeh is heading up a project that aims to create tactile versions of some of the best loved books in children's literature to ensure those who cannot read the words or see the pictures do not miss out on the magic.
Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar are among those the CU-Boulder team is bringing off the page and into the hands of more and more children. The first prototype 3D book, Goodnight Moon, allows youngsters to feel important parts of the story such as the cow jumping over the moon, as the words are read aloud to them. The book was a "logical first choice" for the Tactile Picture Books Project, as it is one of the best-selling tales of its kind, with more than 40 million copies in print, translated into at least a dozen languages.
Unified, tactile reading tools
The project was given $8,000 (£4,700, €5,800) in investment from CU-Boulder, which helped Yeh's team collaborate with the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver to better understand the needs of primary school-aged visually impaired children.
Anchor Center teacher JC Greeley said: "Together [with CU-Boulder] we are able to create a unified, tactile reading tool that gives young visually impaired children immediate and equal accessibility to books, offering the whole family a way to experience the magic of reading together."
Even though concept of making tactile picture books is far from new, the accessibility of 3D printing technology is presenting more opportunities to benefit visually impaired children and to allow them to interact with stories and feed their imaginations. Yeh suggested parents and teachers could customise and print stories in 3D in the years to come as the technology becomes more affordable at the annual Association for Computing Machinery's CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which was held in Toronto last month.
MIT graduate Yeh assigned his rapid prototyping students with the task to create four 3D pages from Harold and the Purple Crayon. The finished book featured one page from each student with Yeh remarking on the creativity used by his technically-minded students. Some pages only contained one object while others are a little busier, but each one captures the essence of the story from that single page in a tactile way on a scale that is appropriate for the cognitive abilities of young children.
Transforming 2D pages into 3D
Yeh's team has devised a way of combining the 2D information from the pictures in a storybook with computational algorithms providing a program allowing parents and teachers to 3D print their own customised picture book.
He explained: "Ideally a parent could choose a book, take a picture of a page, send the picture to a 3D printer, which would result in a 3D tactile book. We are investigating the scientific, technical and human issues that must be addressed before this vision can be fully realised.
"The 3D technology already was there, we had techniques we developed for image processing, you put them together and you have the means to print out 3D images from children's books. The goal is to have parents, teachers and supporters of visually impaired children learn how to use software and 3D printers to make books of their own. Since each child generally has his or her unique visual impairment issues, the idea is to customise each book for each child."
Yeh has called on the Maker community to help develop his project.
"If they could donate their creative minds and time to make something that benefits visually impaired kids, that would be great," he said. "I realised we could do something meaningful by interpreting pictures from these children's books using mathematical diagrams. This project is much more difficult than I envisioned, but it also is much more rewarding."
Yeh is realistic when leading a mission of this size and admits he is taking a chance to do something "different" and "fulfilling".
"The engineering college has been very supportive of my work. Our goal now is to generate more interest in this project. We will be putting on some workshops in the Denver-Boulder area this summer, teaching people how to make 3D models of children's picture books and printing them," he said.