Smart phones have given millions of people easy access to information. Visually impaired consumers, however, have limited options when trying to use smart phones.
That could change very soon with the release of the world’s first Braille smart phone.
What will it do?
Here’s the problem faced by engineers: A Braille smart phone needs a way to make screens more tactile, so blind people can read with their fingers. Current designs use a technology called “Shape Memory Alloy” that allows metal to make and retain shapes on a screen.
When a visually impaired person with one of these phones receives an email or text message, the language automatically gets translated into Braille. Shape Memory Alloy allows pins under the screen to “remember” their original shapes after they have formed images. This could mean that the phones will display pictures as well as text. Soon, we might even find blind people playing online slots with their Braille phones.
It will convert printed text
Converting electronic text into Braille is pretty impressive, but initial designs show that a Braille smart phone will do much more than that. Perhaps most impressively, the phone will be able to read printed documents and turn them into Braille.
By using a smart phone’s camera, designers have found a way to translate images of words into Braille. It’s impossible to imagine how much this will benefit blind people. Suddenly, they won’t need special Braille editions of books and newspapers. They’ll just use their phones to read printed materials.
When will it be released?
Sumit Dagar has been the driving force behind building the Braille smart phone. His company has been working on the design for three years and hopes to release the first version by the end of the year.
A TED Talk in 2011 spread interest in the device, subsequently sparking enough financing for Dagar to complete early designs sooner than he’d anticipated. Plenty of tests are needed before that happens. Currently, Dagar’s company is working with the LC Prasad Eye Institute and Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
Is there a consumer demand?
Dagar hopes to sell his Braille phone for about $185. That’s an affordable price for most people in the United States, Europe, and other developed parts of the world.
According to the World Health Organization, there are about 285 million visually impaired people in the world. Thirty-nine million of those people are considered blind.
Unfortunately, 90 percent of those people live in developing nations, where people rarely have enough money to spend on emerging technologies. Considering that nearly half of the world’s blind population lives in India, though, it’s easy to see why Dagar feels so committed to his project.
Even if only 10 percent of the blind population can afford the phone’s initial release, that’s enough to make it a viable product for major companies. Eventually, prices should fall (or older models will get sold at lower prices), making them more affordable for people without much money.
What innovative benefits do you think a Braille phone could offer visually impaired people? Will it change the way blind people operate in the world?
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Image via Flickr by newsonline
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