You probably get pretty frustrated when you catch your parents printing out Google Maps directions even though they have a smartphone, but the notion seems less ridiculous when those same maps are coming off of a 3D printer as a way to let the visually impaired safely navigate a city by foot.
Japan’s Geospatial Information Authority, the nation’s government body responsible for mapping and maintaining geographical data about the country, has released a special piece of software that allows users to select and then create a relief map of a specific region of the country, with roads and other notable features appearing as raised ridges.
The GSI has already been working to update its map data to ensure that features like roads and railways are highly recognisable when a user chooses to create a 3D-printed version. The actual hardware needed to produce the maps is still prohibitively expensive for most citizens, but as 3D printers are refined and perfected over time, they will inevitably drop in price to the point where they’re as cheap as inkjets. And at that point this software will be just as polished, resulting in what’s no doubt an essential tool for the visually impaired. [The Asahi Shimbun via DamnGeeky]