by Robert Kingett
San Francisco — One of the greatest challenges for lowering the cost of printed braille is making braille printers affordable to everyone. A 7th grader, though, has made a solution that may eradicate this problem entirely.
According to reports from the World Health Organization, there are estimated 285 million visually impaired people worldwide, 90 percent of which live in developing countries. Many of these blind people don't have immediate access to an embosser due to the cost of the devices, but that is changing with the mind of a young engineer with big dreams.
Shubham Banerjee, a San Francisco Bay Area 7th grader, received recognition for a revolutionary project on behalf of the California State Assembly for his groundbreaking contribution to the lives of the blind and the visually impaired. The invention is a braille printer that is made entirely out of LEGOs called BRAIGO.
Using LEGO's Mindstorms EV3 kit and some parts from a hardware store, Banerjee came up with a way to make a braille printer that will give braille access to people who are blind and visually impaired like never before. The Lego kit cost $349; the hardware from Home Depot cost another $5. The project uses the base reference model known as Banner Print3r and was redesigned with new software to print the letters A-Z.
“A flyer came to our house that said help the visually impaired with donations,” Banerjee reflected in an interview. “I didn't know how blind people read so I asked my dad how they read. He told me to Google it. I did, and I saw braille printers cost about $2,000 or even more, and I felt that was very expensive, so I wanted to create something to help lower that cost.”
He began working on the project just before his local science show, often staying up until 2 a.m. to construct the hardware and the software. When he finished the initial prototype he presented it to his science show, where he astonished the crowd. Soon afterward, many awards arose for his successful accomplishment as well.
Banerjee wishes to make this project open source, with the design and software readily available for public consumption free of charge. “I want to give away the design and code for free, so that anyone can take the idea and develop the concept further,” he added.
It is possible for someone to take the open-sourced design and develop it further. This model doesn't print thousands of words very quickly as in typical embossers. In fact, as illustrated via his YouTube video, the printer only prints a letter every five to seven seconds.
At this point, the printing speed may be too slow for many applications as well as different situations where the need for braille is time-sensitive, but the cost will hopefully open the doors to more of the blind having access to braille around the world. It will be fascinating to see how this project progresses.