3D Modeling3D Printing ProcessesMakersResearch & EducationTrends 2024

3D printing for the blind, Indiana School’s project shows how far we’ve come

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Ever since the low cost 3D printing industry exploded as a consumer phenomenon (because it has, hype or no hype), it became clear that some of the most fascinating and important applications were in the care for small groups of people with specific requirements. In few of these the benefits have been clear than in 3D printing for the blind.

skimbals u boat5What, however, is even more impressive is not just the sheer amount of such initiatives and the benefits they have brought about. What is particularly stunning is how fast these application have been and are still evolving. From simple 3D printed toys to teach basic braille and offer physical contact with objects, to highly complex models and highly structured scholastic programs. That is what became clear when speaking with Jacob Ayers, Maker in Residence at the Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, about an highly detailed submarine he 3D printed for a class.

“It took 1.5 kilos of filament, 3 weeks, and 175 hours of printing,” Ayers wrote. ” Skimbal’s (Michael Curry) U Boat is now complete on the assembly side. Finishing begins next week. We are going to have a happy social studies teacher and some very engaged students in a few weeks.”

The U-Boat Submarine was requested to be built by High School Social Studies teacher Joshua Matthews to more accurately depict what World War II technology looked like for a blind student that was writing a report on the changes in ship design. Matthews created a series of tactile drawings to show the student, but they did not suffice.


Although he would not take credit for it, much of the merit for the growing adoption of 3D printing by the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is directly linked to Ayer’s own passion and his dedication to the point that he loaned his own 3D printing equipment to the school over the past couple of months to get the project running.

skimbals u boat3“We received a very generous grant from the Indiana Lions for the ISBVI, a foundation support by Lions Clubs around the state of Indiana to purchase equipment to expand the capabilities of the lab. Now all the equipment that I have loaned the school is going back home,” Ayers explains, “We’ve been implementing 3D printing in education since November of 2015. It has been very cool how it has worked out, both for the school and for myself. I graduated from the school for the blind in 2012. In October Dr. Matt Maurer, Butler University and I approached the Superintendent Jim Durst about starting this lab last October and he allocated the funds to bring me on as part time employee to try it out. We are very gracious of his support and enthusiasm for the project and it’s continued growth”.

The lab is just the beginning of a several larger projects that leverage on 3D printing and other compatible technologies – including 3D scanning and drones.

skimbals u boat4Ayers acquired experience working with 3D scanning during an internship for all of 2014 at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, working under JP Brown, Associate Conservator in Anthropology. They did everything from photogrammetry to laser and micro CT scanning to image objects and these models are now part of the museum’s private collection. As part of a collaboration involving also NPR’s RadioLab program and the Field Museum one of the 3D scanned models, a Taung Child, is freely available for download on Thingiverse.

Ayers said. “We are at a point where we can reproduce almost anything. We just need access to the data to make it happen. One of my future goals for the project is to build working relationship with museums, researchers, and cultural institutions. They hold the treasures of the world and by scanning and reproducing them we can ultimately put the world into a child’s hands and bring their educational experience up to par with their sighted peers.”

skimbals u boat2In the meantime Ayers’s experience with photogrammetric 3D scanning is being used in another project directly involving the Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired: an accurate, physical, 3D printed map of the entire campus. The project is using using a DJI phantom 3 to do aerial photogrammetry and build the 3D printed map. Drone Deploy is sponsoring the project providing the back end support for data processing. The first building is almost complete and is already available for preview on Sketchfab.

The sheer amount of new and innovative useful activities that 3D printing has made possible within any classroom. While the submarine 3D model that attracted my attention at first was 3D printed with a basic CTC and Printrbot 3D printer and downloaded from Thingiverse, it was only the tip of the iceberg. To find out more about the possibilities of 3D printing in education for the blind and visually impaired, Ayers is organizing a talk to be held at his school. at the rate things are going it may have to become a monthly appointment.







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