Previously, we shared a story about the Media Accessible Design (MAD) Lab at LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired which serves as a design and development venue for the LightHouse staff and members of the community to leverage different tools such as 3D printing to provide the visually impaired more access to learning and information. Their pursuit of technology development to further this cause, however, does not end at their laboratory of innovation. As we learned from our recent visit to their headquarters at San Francisco, LightHouse is raising their use of additive manufacturing technology to another level.
Equipped with one Series 1 and six Series 1 Pro 3D printers, LightHouse has opened their doors and created a tech accelerator/incubator to support different start up and partner companies in undertaking projects aimed at creating a positive social impact. “Aside from MAD Lab, the second thing we are using the 3D printers for is making ourselves available as a resource for partner companies, startups and community members who have projects that require 3D printing and have a mission-based focus,” says Will Butler, LightHouse Director of Communications. The first company to begin harnessing the power of 3D printing with LightHouse at present is Actiview, a San Francisco-based startup founded by Alex Koren and Braun Shedd.
Actiview was born of a desire to help solve a social issue faced by many persons with disabilities– equal accessibility– starting with movie theaters. After hearing the frustration of family-friend who is hard of hearing, Alex, together with Braun established Actiview with the main focus of enabling people with a variety of sensory and language differences to have the best possible access to movie theater content.
As with any public accommodations, by law, theaters showing digital movies are required to provide auxiliary aids to people with disabilities. In reality, however, there are still widespread complaints from the disability community about the general lack of accessibility. To address this challenge, Actiview built an ADA compliant accessibility system offering audio description, closed captioning and amplified audio which allows people with hearing and vision disabilities to fully enjoy the movie theater experience. “It’s a small hardware system that’s installed in the projection booth and has a companion mobile application, which we have developed, that allows the users to stream any available accessibility content,” Alex shared with us.
Achieving Flexible Product Development with 3D Printing
Besides dealing with the application or software part of their product, the Actiview team also needed to build the enclosures for their hardware. Through 3D printing, they were able to do rapid prototyping and achieve the flexibility they needed for their product development. “What we gain [from the Series 1] is flexibility in our products. If we made molds, we would have been stuck in one design forever,” Alex said.
As an example, the screen on their server (see top-left photo above) did not exist one week before an important early deadline. However, realizing that projectionists wanted status and configuration options on the box itself, the team was able to quickly redesign the box to accommodate the touchscreen. Even with tight time constraints, Actiview was still able to execute the modifications without compromising their shipping schedule. This kind of agility is just one of the benefits that engineers and designers gain from 3D printing. They have more opportunities to experiment with different designs at a lower cost and quicker turnaround.
The large build volume of the Series 1 Pro was also very beneficial for the team. This unparalleled feature in the desktop 3D printing market allowed Actiview to build their box casings, which were almost 100 (10”x10”) square inches, without any restrictions. Finally, according to Alex, Type A Machines’ 3D printers have become a big part of their daily lives as they underwent several trial and errors, going through prototyping phases and even as they were doing demonstrations.
Actiview needed the capability to create affordable prototypes at a speed that will allow them to bring their ideas to a tangible product and get that product to market fast. With their skills, the collaboration they made with LightHouse and the capabilities offered by the Series 1 Pro 3D printers, that goal was realized. In a span of almost five months after their formal partnership with LightHouse, Actiview was able to set their project in motion, iterate on their designs and offerings, and progress as quickly as possible.
At present, Actiview is shipping their products to exhibitors across the country and abroad. Their story is an illustration of how technology, ingenuity and collaboration can create positive changes in our society and we, at Type A Machines can’t wait to see their products be used by the rest of the movie theater industry to bring the kind of accessibility that people with vision and hearing impairments across the globe truly deserve.
(From right to left.) Alex Koren, Scott Blanks, Braun Shedd and Will Butler