3D Printing Offers Visually Impaired the Chance to Preserve Lasting Memories

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The third dimension can be the critical bridge for the visually impaired — the difference between the flat, indistinct, and illusive surface and the tactile one that provides an alternative to sight. In a poignant mini-documentary produced by Singapore-based 3D printer company Pirate 3D, five visually impaired people are given the gift of preserved memories via 3D prints of photographs or images of personal meaning to each.Buccaneer 3D Printer

The documentary, directed by Brazilian filmmaker Marco Aslan and titled “Touchable Memories,” features short biographical films of five very different people, all of whom are blind — some since birth. The makers of the film, Lowe and Partners, or LOLA, a creative agency in Madrid, teamed with Story, also of Madrid, to create this moving documentary.

The cast are quite varied, as are their individual memories, which are committed to 3D thanks to Pirate3D’s Buccaneer 3D printer.

Gabor is a filmmaker. He lost his sight about twelve years ago but about two years ago he resumed making films, despite the obvious impediments. His first project after returning to filmmaking was a short movie shot in Bolivia. His memory is a still image from his movie of an elderly woman seated alone in a room. “I know all [the room’s] details in my mind but I cannot see it,” says Gabor. The 3D-printed “memory” he receives is like a small diorama, a box with the top and front open. Inside sits a stout, elderly woman in heavy garments. Two of the box’s sides are pierced by windows and there is a small table under one window.

Mario, an Italian, is a musician. In the documentary, he explains that music has provided him with a means of connecting with others in a very personal way. He’s seen performing in a subway passage and then, eventually, being presented with his “memory”: a 3D print of his first CD cover, designed by a close friend who is a graphic designer. The lavish design is meant to describe the energy of his music. There are two representations of Mario himself in the piece along with musical instruments — his guitar, a tambourine, a xylophone.

Meritxell from Barcelona has been blind since birth. She explains in the film that it is a tremendous source of frustration to her to be unable to preserve memories as most people do via photographs. An array of Meritxell’s personal photographs appear in the documentary. The one that is printed is a photo from her childhood, created for her to hold as a sculpture of two small figures. She stands with her cousin, the two wearing festive, pointed caps at a carnival they attended together.


Meritxell’s sculpture: cousins at a carnival


Yassine’s “memory”

Yassine, also blind since birth, lost his father when he was five years old. In the film, he is given a 3D printed sculpture: a father tossing his son high in the air. Yassine is able to recall playing with his father, who would call him “my little bird” when they played, and hold a memory made tangible.

Daniela works with people with special needs. She says that “if I can touch the picture, it brings all emotions to life,” reflecting on the differences between memories as a sighted and a blind person. Her 3D-printed “memory” is from a family ski trip; she, her older brother and her parents pose for a family portrait wearing their skiing gear. “This creates a whole sensation, because I can really recall that moment,” say says as she lightly touches the figures, “it’s something that’s there forever.”

As each of the five individuals is  presented with their 3D printed memories, they examine them slowly and gently with fingertips carefully touching every surface. The scenes are emotional — brief, but with tremendous impact.

The 3D printed “memories” are the beautiful, delicate products of Pirate3D’s Buccanner 3D printer. The company gained renown when they launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the Buccaneer. They were hailed as one of the most successful crowdfunded projects to date, raising over $1.4 million with the backing of more than 3,500 supporters across the globe when the Kickstarter campaign was completed in June 2013. buccaneer

Pirate3D had promised its backers a 3D printer that would be extremely well-made, user-friendly, and would include a heated bed, automatic bed calibration, an air filtration system, filament feeding, and ABS support but evidently none of these features is available in the product they’ve begun shipping out. Only around 200 orders have thus far been delivered (of about 3500 promised), leaving many backers extremely unhappy and demanding refunds. Shipping of orders is being delayed until late this year and possibly into 2015 as the company scrambles to make good on its promises. Pirate3D has offered its backers three choices, which they emailed out in July 2014: Buccaneer Cold cold bed models, which will ship November-December 2014; Buccaneer Hot heated bed models, still being tweaked, which will begin to be fulfilled in April 2015; or a refund, slated to be filled August-December 2014, based on when the request is received. So far, only about 15 percent of their backers have requested refunds rather than wait out the pushed-back delivery dates, leaving Pirate3D with plenty of orders left to fill.

The “Touchable Memories” project seems a good public relations effort for a company whose notoriety has shifted from charmed to controversial.  Discuss this story in the Touchable Memories forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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