Young Turks on a Braille trail

Student innovation

When Surabhi Srivastava and Shyam Shah visited a number of blind schools as part of one of their fourth year research project, they observed that accessibility was a major issue for the visually impaired. After two years of research, they decided to develop ‘BrailleMe’— a low-cost electronic braille device enabling digital information access for the blind at a 10 times lower cost than other such products. 

“Electronic Braille does exist, but even for a basic model the price is close to 2,500 dollars which is almost two lakh; it is expensive considering that globally 90 per cent of 20 million visually impaired live in low-income settings. That is why, we started figuring out the reason for the high cost of a simple method of moving the pins up and down,” Srivastava, tells Metrolife.

 The device will be able to produce 32 Braille characters via Bluetooth from a computer, smartphone or tablet. 

“Once it is paired with an android phone, it connects through wireless. The text part of it gets transmitted line by line and is converted into Braille format. So the pins move up and down to form Braille in real time which is in micro-seconds.

Depending on the user’s speed of reading, once they finish, they can scroll akin to the way we scroll on our smartphones. It will allow the users to read, type and navigate digital content in their own script – Braille,” says Srivastava, co-founder of the start-up, Innovision, while displaying a prototype of the small, keyboard-like device at  Techshare India 2016.   

Using the patent-filed Braille cell technology developed in-house, the device will help users to access MS Office and the internet including social media and e-books. “We wanted to use our engineering background and knowledge to create something which has a social impact. We need more affordable technology. With India’s 1.3 billion people, there is a huge potential, both in terms of the need and market,” says Srivastava while mentioning that prototype is being pilot tested in institutions like National Association for the Blind (NAB) and Xavier's Resource Center for the Visually Challenged.  

The Mumbai-based start-up which raised a seed-funding of Rs 20 lakh from the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) aims to improve education and employment opportunities for the blind living in low income settings. “Literacy has come down to 10 per cent for blind people in developed countries. In India and developing countries it is almost two per cent. Same is the case with employment. Unemployment statistics are up to 70 per cent. So this was something we wanted to ultimately find a solution for,” avers the 24-year-old.

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