At the Special Needs Educational School for the Visually Impaired in Japan, students got to speak a simple search term and eventually touch the item for which they searched. The capability was thanks to a new device called a "Hands on Search" machine. It's a large, white, cloud-shaped machine with a 3D printer installed in the center. When the student walks up to it and says "giraffe" the machine will respond by searching the internet for 3D blueprints, loading them up and then printing a giraffe for the student.
You can take a look at the Hands on Search machine in action here:
The Hands on Search device was pioneered by Yahoo Japan Corporation, which is partly owned by Japanese mobile carrier Softbank and US based Yahoo! Inc. According to Yahoo Japan, it was created as a way to incorporate touch into the Internet experience. "The internet is visual and auditory. What if the sense of touch became possible? What does the future look like?" they asked.
The Hands on Search machine will remain at the Special Needs Educational School for the Visually Impaired until October when Yahoo Japan will take it on the road and demonstrate the technology to a variety of other institutions. The Hands on Search machine is just one of several recent initiatives using 3D printing as a way to communicate with the visually impaired. A group of four Harvard undergraduates is working on a project called "Midas Touch" that will turn flat paintings into 3D printed, touchable replicas and one of the finalists in the recent 3D Printers for Peace Contest created a 3D printed interchangeable Braille tablet.