This article was first published in the October edition of  Media Pulse – Omnicom Media Group’s monthly highlights on relevant media insights, intelligence and trends.
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In an age of digital video and hologram projections one means of communication remains decidedly low tech: Braille. A handful of forward-thinking designers are hoping to change all that with several thought-provoking concepts that use GPS technology and 3D design to help the blind navigate the world. How productive were you this morning?

The concepts all capitalize on readily-available GPS mapping satellites and instantaneous digital displays. Discover, a product created by Mexican designer Jorge Trevino Blanco, is a handheld device that turns GPS data into real-time tactile maps. The device looks a lot like a remote control and it functions using “pin” technology. Remember the impression pin boards we all smooshed our faces into as kids? It’s kind of like that.

The question isn’t whether these 3D devices are feasible—they are. With clear implications for the visually impaired, what’s more interesting is how else these concepts can be utilized. This offers a potential solution of how to reach the visually impaired with marketing messages, in a world dominated by visual stimulation: billboards and banner ads and print—oh my! Imagine a 3D map of an area with special consideration paid to the Boots Pharmacy on the corner. (That sound you hear is marketers salivating.) What about digital buying habits… would they change if people could see the exact shape and size of the item in question on a 3D display in their living room? The sci-fi-esque possibilities are endless.

Professor Edwige Pissaloux is working on a comparable prototype at the ISIR in Paris, a world-renowned robotics think tank. Recently presented to a rapt audience at MIT, Pissaloux’s similar design uses smart glass technology to transmit location data to a handheld 3D display.

Neither of the 3D Braille concepts have yet come to fruition and both are described as being a “work in progress.” The ideas certainly have all the makings for a highly-successful Kickstarter campaign, however. For now the visually impaired can enjoy the freedom provided by digital walking sticks and look forward to advances in retinal-implant surgery. That long-awaited robotic service dog? Probably still a good ways off.