3D printing has been instrumental in any number of humanitarian areas, from printing prosthetic limbs for kids to the Korean visual yearbook for blind students. However, one new innovative use is bringing music to those without sight in a pioneering new way.
They can now “see” sheet music.
You’d think that music would be an especially well suited creative endeavor for blind people, considering that their hearing is heightened and is one of their key senses. However, the challenge hasn’t been listening to music, but being able to recreate it on an instrument of their own.
Unless they were able to play by ear, most had no recourse but to be a passive listener, not an active participant. This new innovation is bringing blind people the opportunity to be musicians by putting sheet music into a format that they can “see” and then play on their own.
Now, to be perfectly honest, there are braille music systems in existence. These allow musicians to read music and then play it on their instrument.
The problem is that complex pieces of music don’t translate very well to braille, leaving the performance somewhat lacking, even for performers with immense talent and skill. The new 3D printed music system allows all the complexity and interconnectedness of the world’s most multifaceted music to be translated into a blind-friendly format.
In addition to making it easier for blind musicians to read music, this new system also makes it possible for blind and sighted musicians to collaborate and create music together by ensuring that they’re reading and playing the same music (something that’s often impossible with standard braille-based music).
The project was undertaken at the University of Wisconsin, and was a joint exploration by William Aquite and Yeaji Kim (a blind pianist completing her PhD in the school of music). Thankfully for the project, the school had recently invested in a high quality 3D printer in its Polymer Engineer Center – a Selective Laser Sintering 3D printer that has become “a catalyst for new ideas and opportunities” according to Professor Tim Osswald.
The invention met with so much success that Kim was able to earn her PhD and return to her native Korea, although she remains active in the project. While it’s not quite ready for the mainstream yet, the inventors are still working on and refining it, and hope to be able to share it with the rest of the world in the very near future.
While you hear a lot about how 3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing, research and development and other fields, this is where the technology truly excels. It enables innovation, invention and provides human ingenuity with new ways to improve the lives of people around the world in virtually any situation imaginable.