3D printing opens up the world to the blind

Blind boy3D printing is a fast developing technology and Yahoo Japan has teamed up with the Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired of the University of Tsukuba to use it in a very special way.

Blind children at Hanawa Hockichi Saitama Prefectural School have been leased a 3D printer for a one-month period in order to bring the world into their classroom.

Printing objects like snowflakes, elephants, and landmarks gives the children the chance to touch items that are usually too small, large or dangerous to handle.

It creates whatever I want to touch with my hands. It’s really cool. – Yui Yamamoto, student.


The children only need press a single button and verbally tell the machine what they’d like. The printer then begins recreating the object with enough precision to let the children experience tiny details they’d only been able to vaguely imagine in the past. The printing process, however, can take up to an hour.

Yahoo Japan Corp state that they have no plans to reproduce or commercialise the printer but they will be leasing it to other Japanese schools for the visually impaired in the future.


Will 3D printing see an end to blindness?

Recreating the world in models may be the first step to opening the world up to blind people. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have been using 3D printing to run off cells from the retinas of rats.

Although the study is in its prelimarily stages it’s hoped that the technology could one day print retina nerve cells for humans.

However, the printing of cells does have complications.

Wen-Kai Hsiao, a researcher at Cambridge, explained to the Metro: ‘In order for a fluid to print well from an inkjet print head, its properties, such as viscosity and surface tension, need to conform to a fairly narrow range of values.’

While in its early stages it is possible that those children playing with the 3D printer may one day have their visual impairment cured by the same technology.

[Image sources: RTV, AFP]

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