Dressed in their emerald green graduation gowns and mortarboards, the 19 graduating seniors from the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired lined up for their class pictures.
Two queues occupied the cafeteria space inside the historic school: one for the traditional still-portrait photographer and another for a team from the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Scholarship manning two 3D-scanning stations. Most of the students sat down for both.
The scanning took only about a minute for each student. The digital composites will be sent to the school’s records as well as to the students, who can then 3D-print the scan.
“We hope this becomes a new tradition for us,” said school superintendent Jim Durst. “A picture is worth a thousand words, and an object is worth a thousand pictures. Our kids can have access to information through 3D printing, but this really personalizes it at a level we hadn’t thought of or anticipated.”
The technicians used Creaform portable 3D scanners, which take about 1,000 digital photographs per second. The software stitches the images together to create a surface in staggering detail. The 3D scans can sharpen the details of a face — or any object — to a tenth of a millimeter.
The Center for Digital Scholarship has been busy for years with collaborations with the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, Indianapolis Firefighters Museum, and several other institutions and programs. Typically, the team scans inanimate objects for virtual online museum experiences that users can access anywhere on the planet. At the 2018 Regatta, the team scanned 200 students’ faces, including one who 3D-printed a life-size version of his face to make into a Halloween mask. At the Jan. 24 50th Anniversary Birthday Bash, 400 students were scanned.
Steve Mannheimer, professor of media arts and science, had worked with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired for years as part of assistive, accessible and inclusive technology research with the Department of Human-Centered Computing. He met with Durst to plan the April 16 scanning session.
Decades of two-dimensional class photos line the school’s halls, but many of the students can’t see them. The goal of the class of 2019’s 3D scans is for that to change.
“One research question is, ‘Will the students recognize themselves?'” Mannheimer said. “Thanks to digital technology, we can provide tactual, acoustic, gestural opportunities to say, ‘How will this help somebody who may be differently abled to better interact with the world?'”
Durst was excited about what the 3D scanning will lead his students to.
“In the future, when they come back years from now with their children and grandchildren,” he said, “they can say, ‘Here’s my picture. This is what I look like,’ without depending on somebody else to find their picture.”
Visually impaired students had the option of keeping their eyes closed, as the handheld scanners emit bright lights while scanning. No sound is emitted during the process as the technician holds the scanner about an arm’s length from the subject.
“It’s like a projector that slides across a surface’s mountains and valleys,” said Derek Miller, 3D project coordinator. “We can also capture color and texture of materials.”
Inspired by a few other assistive technology initiatives, Miller hopes to offer scanning services to the school again — not only to the graduating class, but for every class. From kindergarten to senior year, blind students will be able to realize their physical growth from their 3D-scanned portraits.
“It’s going to allow them to feel themselves tactilely,” Miller said. “Someday, hopefully, we’ll be able to scan a blind student at the age of 5 and then scan them every year. In theory, we could build a timeline of them growing that they can actually feel.”
Senior Cassondra Ernstes was one of the first students to get scanned. She was thrilled to be among the first class to have such unique senior pictures.
“That was pretty interesting. I didn’t feel anything,” Ernstes said. “I’ll be 3D-printing this. We’ve never had anything like this before. It’s pretty different, but pretty cool.”
These scanners were supported by a grant from the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute.