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3D Printing Project, Façade, presented this week at CHI

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With more and more appliances using flat touchpads to replace physical buttons, blind people are increasingly encountering accessibility issues.   Although labeling with Braille stickers is an option, this typically requires a sighted person to identify the original functions and apply the labels.  So what if sighted assistance isn’t available, or the labeling device can’t address issues such as layout and label size? 

In their paper, “Façade: Auto-generating Tactile Interfaces to Appliances,” a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Colorado Boulder address the issue of digital accessibility through Façade, a crowdsourced fabrication pipeline that allows blind users to independently augment appliance interfaces without sighted assistance.  Led by faculty lead, HCII Professor Jeff Bigham, Façade combines both 3D printing and crowdsourcing, eliminating the need for in-person assistance, while allowing blind users a cost-effective way to customize appliances. This project is the first in which crowds have been used to create custom 3D printed objects. 

How it works

Using the Façade iOS app, users take a photo of an inaccessible interface.  After measurements are calculated, the image is sent to crowd workers who label and describe its various elements.  These labels are then used to generate a 3D model for a layer of tactile and pressable buttons, which match the original controls.  After the crowd finishes labeling, blind users can customize the size and shape of the labels using the iOS app.  Finally, a 3D printer fabricates the layer, which is designed to be easily aligned and attached to the appliance using adhesives. 

The team went through several design iterations to develop the most functional overlay.  Led by HCII Professor Jen Mankoff, the ideal solution is a layer designed to accommodate different labeling strategies and reading mediums, such as Braille, printed letters, or dots.  It should also use different shapes for both function buttons and number pads.

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Façade in the Future

3D printing is opening the door to greater accessibility of everyday objects for the blind.  By combining crowdsourcing with 3D printing, blind users can customize and personalize interfaces while relying on online, always-available assistance. The team sees a future in which when 3D printers become faster, more efficient, and commonplace in people’s homes, eliminating the need for commercial-grade printers or mail order services.   

To learn more about Façade, read the complete paper here.