Many blind or partially sighted people rely on braille, a unique system of raised dots that can be read by touch to read.
The few devices currently on the market that are able to convert digital content into braille are cumbersome, and so expensive they are beyond the budget of most people. The size of a computer mouse, the latest gadget lets blind people read text on a laptop, iPad or iPhone either by moving the device from left to right or choosing an ‘auto-scroll’ option which takes them to the next line. They can also skip lines, paragraphs or pages by single, double or triple taps of a button.
It has been created by three engineers, one electrical, one mechanical and one computer scientist who won funding in a competition to turn their idea into reality.
The device works by transmitting digital content via Bluetooth to a receiver the size of a computer mouse which then converts it into braille.
Braille displays which can read digital content work by raising rounded pins through a surface which can be translated into letters and words via touch.
Older devices which use Bluetooth to convert digital content into braille have cost anywhere from $1000 to over $6000, but makers of the Bonocle say it is small enough to fit in your pocket or a small handbag and it will sell for about $350.
‘Bonocle is much more portable and follows a design concept that integrates the visually impaired community into society rather than segregates them into a group,’ said one of the inventors, Ramy Abdulzaher, 25.
“One of the most important factors is cost, we aim to provide Bonocle to the entire blind community and doing so at an affordable price was one of our main focus points.”
How does Bonocle work?
The device lets blind people read text on a laptop, iPad or iPhone
It can convert text into a series of braille codes designed to be read by people who are blind.
The codes are read by touch on a special display at the top of the Bonocle reader.
The display is made up of six round dots that can be raised or lowered in different combination to spell out different word or letters.
By connecting the Bonocle reader to a phone or laptop through Bluetooth, digital content can be transmitted to the reader and converted to braille codes.
The reader can be placed above the text as displayed on a phone screen to allow the user to navigate the page as they read, either manually even skipping lines and sections or on ‘autoscroll‘ setting.
“The device acts similar to a mouse where when it slides from left to right on a surface, the letters are sent digitally to the braille cell which mimics the braille equivalent of those letters allowing a blind or visually impaired person a natural reading experience.”
Not only can it be used to read content in real time, but the device can also store books in a braille library to be read anytime.
In 2017 the team won a $100,000 prize to develop the model awarded by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy which is funding technology as part of the legacy of the 2022 World Cup, which Doha is hosting, and another $100,000 from the Qatar Foundation.
Abdelrazek Aly, 25, the computer scientist on the team, believes that only by improving technology will more blind and visually impaired people be encouraged to learn braille and improve their lives.
He said: “We’ve seen the struggles that visually impaired people are going through and how the market has been frozen with no innovation. It’s been there for 30 years with no new technology.”
‘Governments are trying to push braille literacy because it helps visually impaired people get into employment. So user-friendly and affordable braille technology is much needed in every way. ‘
The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) said it looked forward to trying out Bonocle.
RNIB’s Innovation Through Partnerships Manager, Robin Spinks said: “Braille has long been a hugely important medium for enabling literacy for many blind and partially sighted people around the world.”
“Braille has been reborn as a digital medium and any innovation which reduces cost and improves availability is warmly welcome. We look forward to trying out this new innovation.”