Voice activated 3-D printer makes toys for blind kids

What if it was possible to make our Internet search results tangible? And what might that mean for someone who can't see?
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor
Hands On Search from Yahoo Japan.jpg
The Internet is visual and auditory… but what if we could hold our search results in our hands?

A project out of Yahoo Japan brings together a voice recognition search system and 3-D printing to heartwarming effect. Wired reports.

Hands On Search” is a 3-D printer housed in a bulbous cloud and outfitted with a voice-based user interface that can be used to produce all sorts of plastic miniatures -- from giraffes and dragons to planes and buildings -- on demand.

Last month, the machine was introduced to the Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, affiliated by University of Tsukuba, in the hopes that it will “contribute to the realization of ‘touch’ for visually impaired children.”

After pushing a big button, students can shout out something they want to touch. Once the voice-activated search engine finds 3-D information, the search item is printed on the spot as a tangible, solid object. A teacher might need to peel extra plastic bits off the final printed products.

If, however, there’s no result for the item in the machine’s database, the search item will be posted to a website and Yahoo Japan will post ads to recruit data.

The idea was dreamed up by Osamu Aranami, head of Yahoo Japan’s advertisement division. “I believe innovation comes from the combination of old things,” he explains. (Voice search and rapid prototyping aren’t exactly old, but you see his point.)

On their own, each of these will prove useful to everyday users in certain situations: voice search makes hands-free browsing possible, 3-D printing offers products ranging from rocket parts to bones.

In both of those cases, though, the tech is functioning as the input or output for some sort of digital experience. What’s special here is that the digital middle man is eliminated entirely. You say something aloud and you get something you can hold; all the bits and pixels and clicks are hidden.

You can see more pictures at Spoon & Tamago. And watch videos of the project here and the process here (and below).

[Yahoo Japan via Wired]

Image/videos: Yahoo Japan

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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