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Intel Funds Schoolboy Inventor’s Braille Printer

Intel Funds Schoolboy Inventor’s Braille Printer

The inventor of a low-cost Braille printer has secured funding from tech giant Intel – and he is only 13 years old.

Shubham Banerjee became interested in helping blind people when he came across a fundraising leaflet and started to wonder what being blind is really like. After Googling blindness and learning about Braille, the schoolboy was shocked to find out that Braille printers, even at their cheapest, cost in the region of thousands of dollars.

So he set about seeing what he could do…

Using a Mindstorms EV3 kit – a robotics Lego kit – and some bits and bobs from a DIY store, Shubham created a prototype Braille printer. Users type in text on an attached keypad and the machine converts it into Braille, raising bumps on a scroll of paper similar to that you would find in a cashier’s till.

Braigo v1.0 - Lego prototype!Not only did Shubham win several awards for his Braigo v1.0, his invention was also on display at the White House’s first Maker Faire in June earlier this year.

Since then, Shubham has been working on a follow-up version. Braigo v2.0 features 3D-printed parts and is powered by an Edison chip from Intel.

“It’s less power-hungry and has the future possibilities of using batteries in remote places of the world,” he said, showcasing what he had so far in September, at an event hosted by Intel.

Until now, Braigo Labs had relied on a $35,000 (£22,000) donation from Shubham’s parents to turn the company into a proper start-up. And although the exact sum awarded to the company by Intel hasn’t been disclosed, it is thought to be at least a few hundred dollars.

Intel’s Edison is the first from a series of low-cost chips. Dabbling with use of the chip in his Braille printer, Shubham realised that he could do a lot more with the Braigo than he originally thought. He explained that one of the first things a lot of people do in the morning when they wake up is to check out the news headlines on their phone or tablet. Using the Edison chip, the CNN headlines could be printed off automatically every morning.

Shubham is hoping that his Braigo will become a commercial product and provide blind and visually impaired people with a low-cost alternative to Braille printers already on the market. He is aiming to sell each printer for around $350 (£220) and if he is successful then visually impaired people will have an option around a fifth of the usual price.

Organisations for the visually impaired around the world are welcoming the news of such an innovation. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is the largest nonprofit organisation for blind people in the world. Gary Mudd, a spokesperson for APH, said that there really is a need for affordable Braille printers.

“In a business situation, that equipment is purchased by the company that employs you,” he explained. “People who want their own, though, just get to pay for it. Being blind is sometimes very expensive.”

In the UK, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) explained that only a minority of blind and partially sighted people can actually read Braille. The numbers are particularly low in children and young people. But in our technologically advancing world, this is likely due, in part, to the expense of Braille-related technology – especially compared to its audio counterparts.

“Electronic Braille has great potential, but has been hindered to date by high device costs for users,” explained RNIB Head of Content, Digital and Reading Services Clive Gardiner. “New innovations for low-cost Braille printers such as this one can transform reading choices for people with sight loss… We look forward to hearing more about its progress.”

Shubham Banerjee could become responsible for more people around the world being able to learn and read Braille, and enjoy that little bit more of independence. And if this inspirational schoolboy has managed to do all this when he is only 13, what do we have to look forward to in the future? We can only wait and see…

 

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