Tooteko is a system aimed at transforming tactile models of works of art into interactive, voice-enabled models. Though the company says their technology is aimed at creating tactile models to help the blind and partially sighted people perceive works of art, the technology itself seems an ideal way to supplement the typical museum tour and add an element of touch.

As museums are now preparing reproductions of their most significant works to allow the blind and partially sighted access, in the past, those models have essentially been "dumb" and featured an audio guide or a docent to provide information and content.

Tooteko, on the other hand, integrates tactile perception with the standard verbal information presented during a typical museum tour.

Tooteko representations, a combination of 3D printed models and integrated electronic and audio systems, are activated by the contact of a hand on various parts of a given model. Touching a capital on the facade of a modeled building returns an explanation of that specific detail, touching a lintel returns information about that lintel, and so on.

The company specializes in 3D printed replicas of buildings, objects, and places which also include audio descriptions delivered via a wireless, interactive headset. It's a new way to increase accessibility of museums and public spaces.

The system is the work of Fabio D'Agnano, the head of R&D for Tooteko and also the coordinator of the Master in Digital Architecture program at Università Iuav di Venezia in Venice, Italy. He's been working for over twenty years on solid modeling and prototyping, and D'Agnano, an architect since 1991, is responsible for rendering, prototyping and modeling three-dimensional architecture for the project. He's the author of the textbook 3D Max for Architecture (Apogee, 2006) and a lecturer in digital architecture at the university.

Gilda Lombardi earned her Master's Degree in Semiotics working with the renowned author, Umberto Eco. She's the author of guides published by Guides du Routard and Touring Club, which she translated from English and French, and she's responsible for communication and press relations for Tooteko.

According to Lombardi, the technology makes the facades of buildings accessible to everyone.

Tooteko model setup

"We tried to put together touch and hearing. When your hand hits a hotspot on the model, you get a description of the feature you're touching," said Lombardi. "It could take a month to complete one model and the information included after scanning, digitizing and 3D printing."

Lombardi added that exact replicas of art objects can be made which would normally be off-limits to touching to let museum-goers actually get a "feel" for the shape and texture of various art objects.

She says there's also a less expensive version of the system which uses thermoform plastic sheets and a laptop to relay similar information.