Blind people can't interact with computers in the same way as people who can see — instead, they have to use tactile displays that offer sets of Braille. This works fine for text and to control the computer, but not so well for visual things like looking at photos and maps.
A new display, however, could change that. Called Linespace, it was developed at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany and is made up of a 3D printer head that is attached to a drafting table similar to those used by architects. The printer head is attached to arms and motors so it can quickly make its way across the table.
Users can then activate the system using a pedal and control it using speech, with images being called up in the form of plastic lines. Printed shapes can then be explored by the user, and the user can request extra detail simply by pointing to an area on the surface.
The team behind the display has created a number of apps for Linespace, including a version of Microsoft Excel, the classic computer game Minesweeper and an interior design package.
Another app called Homefinder allows users to search for new apartments on a city map. Users are able to tell the system where to zoom in, if, for example, they want to search in a particular area of the city.
Linespace was well-received in tests, with six volunteers from varying backgrounds using the display. The testers said they saw potential for it in things like education and for making maps and images available to blind people. The real advantage, however, was its size.
A challenge for Linespace will be keeping the technology affordable for users — however, estimates for a commercially-available version of the display sit at around $1,000. Check out the display in action below.