1 of 2
BBC Breakfast glasses for the visually impared
2 of 2
Glasses for the visually impaired
It seems when it comes to 3D printing, BBC Breakfast are only interested in the frightening and the fanciful; either reporting on 3D printing mini-me’s or the perils of the 3D printed guns. When the technology plays a significant part in the development stages of something Bill Turnbull calls “Revolutionary” it is ignored. Thanks Bill!
This criticism is perhaps a little harsh considering the other more vital technology and research used when developing glasses that vastly improve the line of sight for the visually impaired. However, it stands to reason without 3D printing these glasses probably could not exist, so says the man who the head researcher Dr. Stephen Hicks turned to for prototype and development, 3DPRINTUK’S Director Nick Allen:
“3DPRINTUK was based in Oxford originally and we were just around the corner from Steven and his team,” explained the always-enthusiastic Nick Allen. “Steven was one of my first clients and the project is the typical great use for 3D printing; a very bespoke product that would have been difficult to manufacture in any other way. And because they are developing the device all the time they need parts quickly and 3DPRINTUK is able to step in and help them.”
In the UK it is estimated that there are approximately two million people with sight problems most of those people retain some residual vision. Dr. Stephen Hicks and his University of Oxford team have developed a pair of glasses that use 3D scanning technology that is then fed back into lenses giving objects greater contrast and definition to the patient.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People has described the technology as a massive step in improving independence of a blind person. In the demonstration on BBC Breakfast Lyn Oliver, who suffers with Progressive Eye Disease, dons the glasses as she walks around the market; edges, objects and even facial expressions become ever more clear to her.
The images displayed by the headset are familiar to those of us that have used an Xbox Kinect to 3D Scan: “Originally the team were using Xbox Kinect parts because they were very easy to use and get hold of.” Said Nick Allen, “They are going to use that as proof of concept but after that they want to use more bespoke technology, which will reduce the cost and size of the frames for end use.”
3DPRINTUK has grown 600% in the past year and recently have doubled their printing capacity, this, inevitably, means that Nick Allen got less time to spend on a passion project such as this, particularly the CAD, but there’s a nice symmetry to the service now used by Oxford University for their 3D modelling.
“It was an on-going project Nick had started when I first started to work with 3DPRINTUK,” said Mark Little, Dirtector and Co-Founder of Luma3Dprint. “Nick passed on the project to me and I work on the CAD data as Luma3Dprint and we get all the printing done by 3DPRINTUK. We’ve been working with Steven for the last year and a half.”
With over 15 years of CAD experience Mark and his co-founder, Luke Vos, set up Luma3Dprint in the same building as 3DPRINTUK. They maintain a strong partnership with Nick Allen’s company, which helps particularly with projects like this.
“We’ve done about four and a half iterations of the frames, but the Oxford University team are consistently getting better hardware which means the CAD has to change completely. It might not seem the most efficient way of working but it is a trade off; there’s so much scope to improve the electronics and this is often the way, you have to do a lot of CAD to test the prototypes out. 3D printing allows a quick turnaround.”
The most recent prototypes are produced on 3DPRINTUK’s EOS P100 machine in sintered Nylon, which may not have the finish of the original Objet machine but Nick Allen says the parts are much more durable and a heck of a lot cheaper.
“If this was five to ten years ago it would have been crazy how expensive the process for a device like this would have been, both to find a company that would do 3D CAD and to 3D print the parts would have been nigh on impossible in their budget, there were so few companies offering printing services.” Explained Mark. “As a small business it was really difficult to get inside the bigger 3D printing companies. Now that companies like 3DPRINTUK and ourselves are offering the technology to anyone, it has brought the price crashing down.”
The project Mark admits is one of the better ones he’s worked on; “It is tough as a product designer, as a role we do design a lot of things that perhaps we don’t believe we need in the world, but that is what, as humans, we do; we consume things. Working with Oxford University on a project that could change the lives of so many people has made this a really refreshing project to work on.”
Once the Oxford University Team have proved that their concept works, the finished product could theoretically be roughly the same size as Google Glass and the same price as a smartphone. A small price to pay for a vast improvement of life.