St. Thomas Engineer Magazine

Senior Design

Completion of the scanner took three years, three teams and 13 students, with each teamworking on a portion of the project and handing it off to the next one. The project started in fall 2017 as an idea from Dennis Siemer, an engineering design clinic sponsor who volunteers with Minnesota State Services for the Blind. His foundation, the Dennis K. and Vivian D. Siemer Foundation, sponsored the scanner’s development. “When we do these multiphase projects where different teams take it and they’re done and another team has to take it from there, it really illustrates to the students how important the communication piece is, because they’re not going to be around for the next stage,” Senior Design Clinic Lead Dr. Tiffany Ling said.

saving digital versions of the original physical diagrams, they are protected from damage and are more easily shared with teachers and students across the country.” While converting the words of a textbook into braille is simple,

“One of the big issues they (Minnesota State Services for the Blind) had was they have 40,000 of these handmade documents and what they needed was a way to back those up, to preserve those,” said Henry Martinson ’19 in a KMSP-TV story.

it’s much more challenging to convert graphs or images into tactile diagrams. Up to this point, volunteers and employees at Minnesota State Services for the Blind had no way to prevent original tactile diagrams frombeing destroyed by fire or natural disaster. The School of Engineering’s scanner can scan documents in less than two minutes, preserving the original indefinitely. As there is no profit in converting textbooks to braille, businesses don’t offer the service. The state of Minnesota converts the textbooks for students on an as-needed basis. To convert one textbook costs the state of Minnesota $25,000. To create copies of existing tactile diagrams, Minnesota State Services for the Blind would use a thermoforming process in which a piece of plastic is heated over a tactile diagram to create a copy. However, a copy of a copy can’t be created.

Minnesota State Services for the Blind has been involved with the project since the beginning. “We’re in the 21st century, in the technology age and if we can save all of our files, all of our tactile diagrams as a 3-D electronic version, we’ve come a long way,” Allison O’Day, a braille

The project began in 2018 with then students Jacob

specialist, told KMSP-TV. Ling is looking into the opportunity to have some

Liveringhouse, Abbie Sis, Luke Melander, Bridget Carey and Emma Miller; and was continued in 2019 by Andrew Johnson, Jiaming He, Melissa Rose, Gabriel Rodriguez and Samuel LeVoir, before it was handed off to Henry Martinson, Charlie Lundquist and Meheret Tadesse this academic year.

students add one more function to the tactile diagram scanner – the ability to print the tactile diagrams using Minnesota State Services for the Blind’s embossing printers. Since the tactile diagram scanner combines existing technology for a unique application, there is no patent on the device. “I know that there are other organizations out there that would be interested in this technology,” Ling said. “It’s not a unique need – it could go further with other organizations interested in it.”


Students described the tactile diagram scanner’s purpose as “digitally preserving original tactile diagrams – tactile representations of visual learning components in textbooks such as graphs, pictures andmaps. By

St. Thomas Engineer 2020 Page 19

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