The 3D-printed interactive map helping the visually impaired find their way around

A new kind of interactive 3D map has been developed to help blind or visually impaired individuals find their way around public places such as university campuses or museums.

The technology has been developed by the University of Buffalo’s Centre for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center), in collaboration with research firm Touch Graphics Inc.

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The project has already been implemented at Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts and IDeA Center researcher Heamchand Subryan believes it can have a hugely positive impact.

“It's really about giving this audience, this population, a way to understand their environment," he says. "We're providing a level of information that allows them to navigate their environment easily, without help, which gives them a sense of independence."

The 3D maps use conductive paint to sense pressure from a visitor’s hands. As different parts of the display are touched, the map announces building names and directions, whilst landscape features like water fountains are accompanied by sound effects to provide a more interactive experience.

While the technology was primarily designed to help those with visual impairments, the multisensory maps should provide an enjoyable experience for everyone.

The models, which are created using a 3D printer, are part of a horizontal display unlike the vertical maps often found at museums, meaning they match the visitor’s real life experience more closely.

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The Perkins installation also features spotlights on buildings when they’re touched to illuminate the landscape. Other 3D map prototypes are also in place at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Massachusetts and the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind.