I’ve been watching this message board for a while, but this is my first time posting. I’m Michael Cantino. I’m an accessibility specialist and braille transcriber in Portland, Oregon.
I think I can help with this one! Prepare for info dump!
I worked on a research project focused on Interactive Printed Models for visually impaired learners. We used a Blender add-on to add annotations to 3D models, and we loaded those annotations into an augmented reality app. We then 3D printed the models and affixed a QR code tracker cube. Using the app, users could explore models and trigger the annotations with their finger and voice.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Research Articles
Educators in VR article with tons of resource links
The first link is a folder of research articles I reviewed toward the end of the project. These are some of the best examples I’ve seen of virtual maps for the blind. There are several different approaches. Er et al use audio and haptic feedback to explore virtual maps. Kreimeier and Götzelmann use a virtual reality headset and walk-in-place locomotion to explore virtual maps. Zhao et al explore the use of a haptic cane virtual reality controller. Kunz et al use a VR headset, a typical cane, and haptic feedback to explore virtual maps. Lots of really interesting stuff to explore!
3D Printed Tactile Maps Research Articles
Tactile maps are widely used for orientation and mobility training, and they are cost effective to produce. Tactile maps are most often used to study routes before and after visiting a location with an Orientation and Mobility specialist. Interpreting tactile graphics is a skill, and complex graphics can be difficult to decipher. People’s effective use of tactile graphics, in my experience, is directly related to their experience and familiarity with braille and tactile graphics.
With a braille embosser, you can produce maps for pennies per page. Embossed graphics are possibly the most common medium for graphics, but embossed graphics can be difficult to interpret. The IVEO Tactile Tablet, that Tracy mentioned, and the Talking Tactile Tablet are excellent tools for making interactive embossed tactile graphics or mixed media, “collage graphics” that provide the user with important information as they examine a graphic. The tablets aren’t very portable. I think you might be interested in the Götzelmann articles in the 3D printed articles folder. He tries a few different approaches using smart phones and small tactile maps to make portable, interactive maps.
Another common medium for tactile maps is microcapsule paper or “swell touch” paper. Ink on the paper swells to create raised lines and braille. These machines are very easy to work with, but expensive. The paper itself is $1-2 per sheet depending on size.
In terms of equipment and materials, 3D printing might actually be the most cost effective medium. I regularly print high quality tactile graphics and braille on budget printers with no modifications. 3D printed graphics take longer to print and a little longer to design, but material costs are in line with microcapsule paper, about $1-2 per map depending on size.
3D printed tactile maps also have a ton of benefits. The ability to exaggerate the height of important symbols and areas is amazing. On an embossed page (with a nice embosser), you can do little to vary the line and pattern heights, but it’s an important method for conveying complex graphic information. That limitation doesn’t exist with 3D printing. I’m fortunate enough to always be in collaboration with blind friends, staff, and students, and the ease of use and clarity offered by raising the height of symbols is invariably the most popular feature of 3D printed maps.
3D maps are also durable and more portable. Paper-based graphics can be creased or damaged if not handled carefully. 3D printed maps can be thrown in a bag and then studied while traveling.
3D printers can print lovely, smooth braille! There are some tricks though. To get smooth, round domes, you should avoid printing the braille parallel to the print surface. If you want to print braille parallel to the print bed, using flat cylinders seems to produce smoother braille, but it’s less durable. Benetech put together this excellent document about 3D printing braille. I usually use this braille font module. The module produces braille at the standard size, so don’t rescale the braille when adding labels to models.
To improve upon 3D models even further, many approaches are being used to offer supplemental information through interaction. You can read more in the 3D research folder. Whether through embedded electronics, touch screen overlays, or AR overlays, interactive 3D printed models offer an experience similar to the IVEO graphics, but in 3D.
GPS guided navigation is a very useful tool, but it has its limitations, as previously noted. I ran into an engineer named Kelvin Crosby who made an incredible Smart Guider Cane. He’s using lidar to detect objects, and then swivels the cane tip to direct users away from obstacles.
I hope this helps! I think I actually still have more resources if you want any more information.