- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

BUNKER HILL, Ind. (AP) - Like any parent, Faith Altheide will miss her daughter when she goes away to college this fall. But, unlike some other parents, Altheide can’t look at photos of her daughter or give her a call to reconnect.

Faith has Usher syndrome, a disorder that results in hearing and vision loss. So her daughter, Denise Altheide, had to get creative in finding a way to stay linked to her mom when the Plymouth High School graduating senior enrolls in Goshen College next semester. Enter Patricia Ingram, Faith’s friend and a graduate of Maconaquah High School, who knew her alma mater is involved in 3-D printing.

“When Denise got ready to graduate, we thought, what can we do?” said Ingram, a Peru resident. She had seen a video of a doctor printing a 3-D model of an embryo to show a blind mother her unborn baby. Ingram thought the same technology could work for the Altheides.

On a recent Friday, Denise sat on a stool in the center of a classroom of Maconaquah Middle School with Ron Shaffer and Cory Howard, two math teachers who have spearheaded Maconaquah’s 3-D printing efforts. Ingram looked on as they captured Denise’s image to send to a 3-D printer.

The rest of the school was quiet, with desks pushed out into the hallways so classrooms could be cleaned. But Shaffer and Howard didn’t mind spending a summer day at school working on printing a 3-D bust of Denise. They’d already been experimenting with the process with Howard’s image. A 3-D printer lays thin layers of plastic on top of each other to recreate an image sent to the printer. It took about nine hours to print a smaller-than-life-size replica of Howard’s head.

“We were pretty stoked that it worked,” Shaffer said.

To print the 3-D bust, Shaffer and Howard first took photos of Denise from every angle, at three different levels. Shaffer side-stepped in a circle around her, taking her photo from below her chin, level with her eyes and then from above her head. Denise had to remove her pink-framed glasses and keep the same expression on her face while sitting still during the shoot.

After the photo shoot, the next step is to load the photos into an Autodesk 123D Catch app that arranges the shots into a 3-D image. It takes about 15 minutes to render the photos, and then Denise was face-to-face with a 3-D image of herself projected on the screen in front of her.

“I don’t like looking at myself that much,” she laughed.

There were some gaps in the 3-D image where the exposure of the photos prevented the app from stitching them together correctly. Shaffer and Howard decided to redo the photos, and even the second time around, almost the entire back of Denise’s head was missing from the 3-D image. They thought it may have something to do with how the light reflected off her long, straight blond hair, so they tried another round with her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

“It’s still an experiment for us,” Shaffer said, noting they had been working on the process for only three weeks. “We won’t stop until we get it.”

By Monday, they had the procedure figured out and were on track to have a replica of Denise’s head printed for her to give to her mother at her graduation from Plymouth High School.

Right now, Denise communicates with her mother by signing into her hand. Faith is planning to learn Braille, but currently she needs a person physically with her to explain her surroundings.

Howard and Shaffer would like to expand this use of 3-D printing to make busts of babies for blind mothers and soldiers who are stationed overseas and don’t get to see their infant children for months at a time.

“We believe we can teach the students to do it,” Howard said. “We’ve already started to show them some of the programs.”

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Source: Kokomo Tribune, http://bit.ly/1FMCby9

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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