Canute 360 from Bristol Braille Technology, an electronic Braille e-book reader that has been compared to a Kindle for blind people, has been awarded a £5K runners up grant in the 2018 NESTA inventors prize, awarded in conjunction with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy, for the best new product which uses technology to tackle a social issue.
Electronic Braille displays currently on the market can show only a single line of text at a time. Canute 360, the world’s first multi-line Braille e-reader can show nine lines of Braille, each comprised of 40 characters, to form a 360-character display.
“Reading text in Braille using a single line Braille display has been compared to a sighted person attempting to read a novel through a calculator screen,” said Dave Williams, acting chair, the Braillists foundation.
For applications in which reading data across multiple lines is crucial, such as reading computer code, tabular data or music, Canute 360 represents a paradigm shift in Braille technology. Less than 5% of titles published in the UK are currently available in physical Braille format, according to the RNIB. This is a particular problem in the education sector, where equal access to texts for blind and sighted students is crucial, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. Canute 360 was developed to help remove this barrier for access to information in Braille for blind school and university students.
Bristol Braille Technology is currently coordinating a large-scale user-testing program in the UK, as well as in North America, partnering with the American Printing House for the Blind, American Action Fund for the Blind, National Federation of the Blind and Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Canute 360 will be released following successful completion of these trials. Upon release, Canute 360 is expected to be more affordable than traditional Braille displays currently on the market.
Bristol Braille Technology, a not for profit founded in 2008 by managing director Ed Rogers, has been developing Canute technology since 2012 in collaboration with the Braillists foundation, a nationwide group of over 250 Braille enthusiasts. Canute 360 is the 13th iteration of Canute technology developed by the team.
Ed Rogers, managing director of Bristol Braille Technology, said, “Taking part in the NESTA inventor’s prize has been a fantastic experience. The support we have received from our business mentors at Barclays has been great as we move from the prototyping stages towards full production, and the prize money will enable us to support education, particularly in STEM subjects, for Braille reading blind students in UK schools.”
“We look forward to building on our success, and working with our partners to promote access to low cost, multiline digital Braille. For blind people, Braille can offer the key to literacy, employment and independence,” Rogers said. “Final pilot testing of Canute 360 is now underway in the UK and North America, and we’re excited to work with our partners, and the wider blind community, to bring Canute 360 to market after the successful completion of this testing period.”
Canute 360 displays digital Braille files (freely available to all registered blind individuals via Bookshare, an online library of over 650,000 ebooks in accessible formats)2, which are loaded onto the device via a USB stick or SD card.
Upon release, Canute 360 will be distributed by TechnoVision Ltd. in the UK, by the APH, AAF and NFB in the USA, and the CNIB in Canada.
The Braillists foundation is a grass-roots community group connecting Braille readers with Braille technology developers and funders. Braillists groups are active in Bristol, London, Reading and Dublin, alongside an online web forum. The group currently has over 250 members in the UK and Ireland. The Braillists aim to promote the value of Braille as a proven literacy tool; Support efforts to make affordable Braille and tactile reading technologies available to all blind people, and provide an open forum for the exchange of ideas about the development of future Braille technology. The Braillists believe passionately that Braille has the potential to transform the life of any blind person who has the opportunity to learn it.