EasyBraille

Team Members:

Malhar Chaudhari, Siddharth Agrawal

Synopsis:

What began as a simple idea to explore, has now turned into a passion to bring that idea to perfection (not that we claim it is perfect, but yes certainly better than our last attempt). This idea for bringing the vast expanse of electronic text to the visually impaired in an e-braille format began with the Kindle for the Blind, and has now taken another shape based on a unique way to display the characters. EasyBraille was result of relentless pursuit to achieve a drastic reduction is size and cost, making it portable and within affordable reach of the average braille user. Making the device easy to use, has been another core area of interest in development.

Now coming to the unique innovation we spoke about:

Based on our interaction with braille trainers and some braille readers, we realized that instead of having multiple characters and the user scrolling his fingers over them, we have a single character which would scroll the characters beneath the forefinger to display text. Now we know that many advanced braille readers, use both their hands and about three fingers to read braille text. But usually the less dominant hand is used to locate the next line (which is redundant in a refreshable braille display as most displays are single line displays) and the second and the third finger, of the three fingers used, are predominantly used to maintain pace, while the first one does the reading. Thus keeping these insights in mind, we have designed the following prototype.

What is the impact of this innovation?

Affordability

Today majority of the braille readers cost in the range of $ 3,000 – $ 15,000, largely limiting their access to common braille users. With our single character display, we believe EasyBraille to cost around INR (symbol) 7,000 or roughly aroud $100 making it more affordable and more accessible to the braille readers across the spectrum without having to compromise on quality or ease of access.

Portability

Replacing the hardware required to support a multi-character display by a single character display greatly reduces the size of the device. Thus the average braille user can easily carry it with him anywhere and use it at his convenience making it more portable and lasting a longer duration than many of the existing products.

EasyBraille 3D Model

Fig: 3D Depiction of EasyBraille

Some of the distinguishing features of EasyBraille are:

  • Extensive Support for all types of E-book formats
  • Flash Drive based E-book storage
  • Portable, light weight, battery powered (rechargeable)
  • Completely VOICE GUIDED NAVIGATION (Personal Digital Assistant, with natural language processing)
  • Audio Playback also available
  • Add and remember Bookmarks
  • Variable Adjustable Reading Speed
  • Playback from particular chapter in a book, or last reading point
  • Auto refreshable braille display with touch sensor to judge reader presence
  • Affordable and more accessible than any available solution in market

EasyBraille is powered by the Raspberry Pi Model 2. R-Pi was chosen primarily because of its capability to provide extensive support for most of our features. Voice Navigation, audio notification and playback has been implemented using the Jasper Personal Assistant on the Raspberry Pi. An open source e-book reader with wide support for different formats is being considered for reading the e-books. Another important feature of EasyBraille is the speed, at which the characters are read from the device, can be configured by the user as per his preference. Moreover as soon as the user removes contact of his finger with the display, the capacitive sensor would get deactivated and the text would stop scrolling. This would let the user continue from where he left, even if he is interrupted due to any task. This feature helps to maintain continuity for the readers.

The most important part of the device, the refreshable display, is implemented using mini solenoids, instead of fabricating or using custom made solutions, to achieve high performance and keep the costs low. Factors like refresh time, size, weight and cost were taken into consideration while choosing this solution. The required assembly for this part of the device is being currently 3D modeled, and subsequently will be given for printing.

Although the design is under development, we are sure that we would be coming out with our first prototype in the next two months. We are eager to test our first prototype with braille readers and know the response.

Also we are currently using EasyBraille as an e-book reader, but are not oblivious to the fact that it has a large potential to act as a personal assistant to the visually impaired, greatly bridging the digital divide and are designing it in such a way that we are able to leverage that potential without much adjustments required at the user end.

And lastly and the most important part, we plan to release all the schematics, STL files, and the code written as a part of the process to the open source community. This would enable us to leverage the enthusiasm and skill set of members of the open source community in order to improve the product iteratively and enable us to help the visually impaired more efficiently and effectively without worrying much about licensing and other hassles. We will share the link for the same in due time.

You can download a small presentation HERE which gives a synopsis of the complete idea.

Kindle for the Blind

Team Members:

Malhar Chaudhari, Sarvesh Patkar, Virag Doshi, Tushar Advani, Suchitra Sundararaman, Akshay Gharge, Moumita Dey, Vinayak Joshi

Synopsis:

This project aims at building a portable, light weight and low power device that converts the large ocean of e-knowledge into Braille format. It is a revolutionary upgrade to the current electronic Braille display devices which are not portable. It has an easy to use audio user interface for basic operations, like searching from a library of E-Books. Also, it provides a comprehensive set of audio notifications for informing the user. The device is connected to a USB Mass Storage Device loaded with E-Books whose text can be converted to standard Braille format and displayed on a Refreshable Braille Display. This device will increase literature access to the visually impaired through the development of a portable, hand-held Braille E-Book Reader. Please note that the current version of the project does not have a refreshable braille display due to some fabrication limitations.

You can follow my new design EasyBraille, which uses a unique innovation, in the way characters are displayed from the device.

For more details:

Why is “kindle for the blind” a pressing need?

  • The number of Braille printed books is very less
  • Even if they are available, the Braille version is quite larger than the normal book
  • The cost of blind education is very high, due to requirement of special aids and professionals
  • Refreshable Braille Display cost around 2000-3000 USD often requiring additional computing hardware

This leads to an overall reduced literacy rate for the visually impaired and subsequent lower standards of living around the world. This project was motivated by the fact that, all categories of visually impaired people should have equal access and opportunity to education.

While designing these products it was equally necessary to keep in mind that we don’t just design another refreshable braille display, but a product that addressed majority of the issues discussed above.

Thus the most major features of this product are:

  • Capable of Independent Operation without any external hardware or human help achieved with the help of audio navigation and smart search
  • Capable of reading multiple books in widely available digital text formats stored in an external flash drive
  • Low power battery supported and portable

Hardware Description:

Top Level Block Diagram

Fig: Top Level Block Diagram

  • The device gets an external supply from a battery which passes it through a regulator circuit, the DC Distribution Box (DCDB) to provide regulated power to the various sections of the device. It takes 12V unregulated supply from a battery and gives regulated supply voltages of 3.3V and 5V to the different components in the system.
  • The e-books are loaded into a Mass Storage Device (USB Flash drive) in a .txt format. This Flash Drive is connected to the device (VDrive module which uses VNCL FTDI-Vinculum Chip) which reads the .txt files and converts the text into braille format to be displayed on the designed LED matrix to verify the working of the device. This particular section of the device is of significant importance as the reading of books from a flash drive is a very common mode of data storage and helps in increasing the portability of the machine.
  • The selection of the books within the flash drive is done using the speech recognition functionality of the HM 2007 Voice recognition IC. This feature allows the blind user to navigate a plethora of E-books using simple voice commands.
  • A given file is selected only when the user speaks the title of the given file in the mic. An audio amplifier circuit is also designed using LM386 to play multiple monotone as notifications to the user.
  • Up-Down scroll buttons are provided to scroll between the lines of a given text files.
  • The control logic unit consists of the MSP430F5659 microcontroller. This particular IC was chosen because of the large number of IO ports requirements as per the design of our system.

Software Description:

Software Flow Chart

Fig: Software Flow Chart

The software implementation of the system is based on a sequential logic. The initialization of the system includes initialization port pins and verifying operation of various sub systems. To read any E-Book, hardware interrupt has to be raised by the user, which transfers the control to the voice recognition module which then takes a user input. Based on this input, a given E-Book file is copied from the USB Mass Storage Device and converted to braille format and stored in the RAM space of the MSP. These converted characters are then sent to the LED Matrix Display.

Note: I have been unable to include the exact technical details (for eg. Implementation etc), as I don’t have the permission to release the same from some of my other team members.