"We convert the photo in such a way so the major facial landmarks are nicely kept -- that's very important because we can't render all the features into tactile form," Li said. "That would be too disorienting."
Instead, an algorithm pares down crucial facial information without oversimplifying it. Their software allows a blind user to take a photo of a face, put it into a computer application, and automatically generate a new printable image. The image comes out of a special tactile printer with raised lines along the facial features.
"At the moment it's within one minute or so, but we can further optimize the software to do it faster," Li said.
Tactile printers are usually found at centers that assist the blind, and institutions such as the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing at ASU. However, Li said that even the least expensive ones cost several thousand dollars. In the future, he expects the software will work with paperless tactile displays that are in development.
Their automated approach was described last year in the journal IEEE Transactions on Multimedia. This week, Li demonstrated the software at the International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces in Palo Alto, Calif.