The Color Creator is a tool for teachers of the blind and visually impaired serving two purposes: one as a functional assessment tool and another as a high contrast education platform.
- Bright light panel at 8″ x 6″
- Portable at 10″ x 10″
- Tactile color controls
- Audio feedback with onboard speaker and headphone jack
- External keypad with braille markings
- No batteries required, powered by a wall adapter
The Color Creator came about when my friend asked me to make one my illuminated artworks for her neighbor’s child with visual impairment. I made him a Metropolis like the one in the above picture. When we delivered the gift, Kasey was excited and did something I did not expect, he took the artwork and placed right up to his face as close to his eyes as possible. Looking again at Metropolis you can see right away those protruding rods create a dangerous situation. There had to be a better way.
That night I created some napkin drawings of possible solutions. First I thought of just capping the rods – quick and easy. Then I thought that it would be fun if Kasey can control the colors himself. But looking at the middle picture it would be awkward placing that design up to your face. After some adjustments I came up with the rightmost design. Kasey can control the colors and place the rods up close to his face without danger – we have a winner. From here my intention was to continue as through I was building a fun toy.
I set up the electronics on a breadboard so I can begin programming the firmware taking full advantage if the quickness provided by the Arduino platform.
Then I created the frame in AutoCAD.
Next I cut out the frame on my laser engraver. The image above is the cutout of the expansion keyboard (not implemented).
Twenty five hours later spanning two weeks the Color Creator was completed.
Success! Kasey can control the colors without danger.
And here’s the twist in the story, Kasey’s mother, Noelle, is a teach of the blind and visually impaired and what I thought was a toy she saw as a tool for functional vision assessments and color education.
The current technique for teachers of the blind and visually impaired to assess color detection ability and teach their students colors is using paint samples and a flash light. This technique has several flaws. Sometimes glare is created and the student only sees a bright white light. Also, the light being presented can vary depending if the flashlight is LED or incandescent and whether the surrounding light is natural or artificial.
Noelle requested that instead of acrylic rods, we use a large panel and so the next generation began to be designed.
I tested the light output of various cast acrylic light guide etching patterns, Endlighten, and backing materials. Endlighten outputs as much light as etched acrylic, and iPad outputs only 1/10th the light of my test light panel.
Because I wanted to present this project at this year’s ASME Oral Guard Competition I was short on time and was unable to complete my testing. Instead of engraving a pattern on a sheet of cast acrylic I decided to use Acrylite Endlighten. It’s expensive, but Endlighten is specifically design to diffuse light forward from edge illumination. The issue with using etched pattern on an acrylic sheet is that the pattern created a texture on the panel and this texture is not desired when clarity is a high priority.
The simplified light panel consists of a white paper backing, a sheet of .236″ thick Endlighten acrylic, a thin clear plastic diffusing layer, and .118″ thick sheet of scratch resistant acrylic.
The electronics are straight forward. The input power is 12vDC and the DC-DC regulator converts it into 5vDC for the Arduino Mini and the WS2812B light strips. The WT588d sound module requires 3.3vDC which is provided by reducing 5vDC via two 1N4148 diodes per manufacturer’s suggestion. There are four sliding potentiometers and and three tactile off-(on) switches. The WT588D sound module is capable of driving a 0.5w external speaker. Two things are lacking, tactile power switch and a tactile volume knob.
After I was able to verify I can make the light panel the size I wanted it to be and the electronics will also fit in that space, I finished the frame in AutoCAD.
This time around I cut out the frame on the college’s laser engraver to ensure the best precision. The picture shows cutting of internal structure pieces as an alternate approach to holding the electronics in place if I was unable to receive the PCB in time. The material is black cast acrylic. It’s safer then wood in the sense that there are no possible splinters.
Here’s the Color Creator upside down with the back removed. The three ports on the bottom are the power jack, UART expansion port, and the headphone jack.
Dr. Hammond requested that the local PCB fab house make PCBs for my project. Colonial Circuits made me a few sets of two PCB designs!
The PCBs were designed in Diptrace because creating parts in Diptrace is so much quicker than using CadSoft Eagle.
With the large light panel, shapes can be placed on the surface to create a high contrast teaching environment. Noelle is currently using the Color Creator in her classrooms and providing feedback for future revisions.