Malhar Chaudhari, Siddharth Agrawal
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?
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.
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.
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.