Laser cutting technique for Tracktile maps

We are using the remaining time until the Microsoft Research Design Expo to try out some different technologies an techniques to produce our Tracktile maps. A longer time ago, we already thought of using laser cutting to produce portable and foldable maps. First we decided against it, but we wanted to try it out anyway. We are still not convinced to use laser cutting for our project, altough it’s a precise and accurate way to cut.

Since the laser cutting would be a test, we only wanted to try out a small map and chose the campus of our university (Fachhochschule Potsdam). The first steps were quite similar to the milling preparations: downloading the map from open street maps, “cleaning” it, modifying the outlines and patterns to paths. In laser cutting the possibilities are limited: you can cut away shapes, or you can engrave shapes and patterns. Everything must be lines or dots. You can’t laser in different heights, if you wish to have different layers, you should laser cut different papers or woods and stick them together afterwards.

Although the benefits are a fast, cheap and precise production process, concerning Tracktile is has some disadvantages:

  • The engravings are to thin and delicate to feel them, the patterns are eye-candy but useless in a tactile way.
  • At least three or four different levels are needed to give the basic information (streets / open space and green / buildings / tactile symbols). You have to laser them seperately and stick them as layers together. Although the different layers would allow a great number of electronic augmentation!
  • Laser cuts the material by burning, therefor you will always have a burnt smell on your material. When exploring the map by touching it, the fingers will always keep the burnt scent.
  • You have to use rather strong cardboard or a thin wooden plate, which both are no ideal materials for a foldable map. The only solution would be a smaller format which doesn’t need folding, like e.g. indoor navigation in postcard size.