Six women, all undergraduate engineering students at MIT, won last year’s MakeMIT Hackathon by creating a device that can easily change the world for people who are blind.
They call themselves Team-Tactile, and they did something that should have been done a long time ago.
They created a device that is the size of a candy bar. It has a camera on the back, it runs OCR software, and it has 36cells of refreshable braille on the front. You just move the device, for now called Tactile, over printed text, and it is immediately displayed in braille on the front. Think about what an improvement this is over current methods of taking pictures, waiting for OCR software to convert to text, and then having to have a very expensive braille device connected to whatever you used to take the picture and convert to text.
The team only had 15 hours to create this device during the hackathon competition, and it only costs around one hundred dollars.
The problem in the braille display market is that no one has been motivated to create anything new and affordable. We are still using technology that is decades old, and the cost for these devices are in the thousands of dollars. It is about time that new options come to those who desperately need it. Only 10% of blind people can read braille, 70% of blind people are unemployed, and 80% of blind people who are employed can read braille. You do the math. Having easy access to braille material directly correlates to a more educated and productive blind community.
Here’s how it works: You slide the device over printed text, like a book, menu, or even a packaging label. The camera captures images of the words and sends them to a microcontroller, which then performs text recognition. That information, via an electromagnetic activation mechanism, moves the pins up and down at the top of the device, translating the text into Braille. Like with other displays, the Braille characters physically refresh as they scroll through sections of text.
“We’re using cheaper material and an easier manufacturing method,” and this drives down prices.
$100 is just an estimate. But even if they land at $200, Team Tactile still thinks it will be a success.