Geo Braille

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I believe in a world where we can learn about our planet through sight and touch by creating a new way for people to engage with the geographic data of the world and collaborate with those that have a different perspective.

The colored dots above say 'Geo Braille' in braille

About

I went to the annual Startup San Diego event for the first time last week, and it was awesome! I attended some great classes, got motivated, and met some interesting people trying to align their passion with their profit (thanks Alexandria!). One of those people I met was a designer who has been using 3D printing for the last 30 years. Yes, its been around for that long and only recently have the patents expired and made available to the public. My idea is to merge maps and 3D printed models to create a way for the blind and visually impaired to learn about our planet. It works by creating raised features like streets, community boundaries, and parks that can be traced by the hand. We can label street names, parks, and oceans using braille to make it easier to get oriented on the map. Different textures can be used as well, with land area having a 'rough' surface while bodies of water are printed with a 'smooth' surface.

An example below:

La Jolla, Pacific Beach, and other communities in San Diego

Purpose

These braille maps would also include traditional mapping elements like color and text. This way, people can learn together from each other's perspective while offering a more engaging experience with what you're seeing and thinking about. Our sense of touch is a powerful means of engaging our minds with the world around us. Rarely do we use touch with the material we are reading; doing so could help us achieve a greater understanding of the information we are trying to process. There are some challenges like knowing how much data can be added to a braille map without causing confusion or what sized braille should be printed while still being readable. Also, clashing or non-horizontal braille might cause problems in interpretation. I think these things are relatively minor and we'll need to create a methodology on how best to design these (Tactile Cartography anyone?).

Goal

This is still very much a work in progress but I'm assembling a team to work on this. Geo Braille will make all the designs created available for free on the web. That way, anyone with a 3D printer can print a map and use it with their family, students, or colleagues to learn about a variety of topics. Maps are a powerful means of communication and can help us understand the relations between the economic, environmental, and human landscapes.

I intend to make this collaborative and open source in nature. Ideas that can do good for the world shouldn't be locked away waiting for the right monetization strategy or building competitive advantages. At some point, we'll probably create a web-based software that can convert flat maps to braille maps, but that's down the road. This will be a slow process as Geo Braille will be a purpose driven effort (thanks again Alexandria!) rather than a monetary one. I'll keep you posted!

Shout out!

Here's a list of some the resources that I used on this post:

  • Purpose Pioneers
    I learned a new way to think about purpose and how you can use it to make a change in the world. Thanks Alexandria for the awesome talk and the motivation! If you want to see what purpose alignment is all about go check out her company!

  • Pexels and Pixabay
    Thanks to Pexels and Pixabay for providing a great resource to get high-quality photos for free. I believe in the open data and open source movement as a way to make impactful change in the world.

  • Spikerog
    Thanks to Tobias and Anouk for helping confirm the translations I did on my maps. I used Python to convert text to braille and verified it was working properly with their site. Go check out their applications!

  • Stack Exchange - AhmedKH
    Thanks to 'ahmedkh' for making his lists of text to braille available in Python code. You seriously saved me a lot of time!

Ken enjoys working with technology that joins digital information to a place and space. He currently works as a Geo Cloud Consultant and is the founder of The Geo Cloud.
More posts by Ken Burger.
Geo Braille
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