SELISE Software Engineer Jonayet Hossain and his team RenoScience have crafted the winning innovation for the visually impaired, at this years Make-a-thon, an international hardware development competition. E-Braille is designed to make life easier for the visually impaired and states an excellent example of how the right blend of technology, creativity and youthful enthusiasm can lead to great innovations.
There are 5 senses we use to perceive the world around us. It is common knowledge, taught to us from almost the very beginning of our school lives. We study them in more detail as we progress through the years, learning how they work in tandem to paint a picture of the world around us. But what happens when one of these senses lose function? How hard would it be, for example, if we lost our ability of sight?
Luckily, help is right at hand. Technology, infused with some creativity has begun to provide assistance to those who’ve lost their eyesight, helping them navigate the world without too much trouble. These solutions of course, cannot compensate for the loss in the ability to actually see the world – but – they do provide some recourse.
One such solution was a recent entry in a tech meet in Bangladesh. Named E-Braille, the project is the brainchild of Team RenoScience, which consists of Jonayet Hossain, as the team lead, who is also a software engineer at SELISE rockin’ software, along with Saifur Rahman and Samiul Haque, who are both CSE students at BRAC University. The innovative solution allows blind people to use a set of glove-like contraptions to ‘read’ text off the screen of a smartphone. While this may sound wondrously baffling at first, the team assured us that it’s some simple science and no black magic.
This of course, isn’t the first instance of a gadget developed to help blind people move around without human assistance. Quite recently, India saw the introduction of the ‘Le chal’ line of shoes. The shoes are connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth and guide the wearer using GPS. While it is a very enterprising solution in itself, the Le chal shoes have one small weakness; the destination must be set on the smartphone before the shoes can do their job. Editing settings on a smart device is obviously a cumbersome process for blind people.
Team RenoScience’s glove, while meant to be a standalone solution, helps solving the above problem. The glove, specially crafted with a circuit board and 6 associated vibration generators, ‘reads’ the smartphone screen, making use of a smartphone app which was developed by the team as well. The circuit board incorporates a microcomputer in tandem with a bluetooth module which allows it to communicate with the smartphone, and a lithium ion battery that powers everything. Connected to the board are vibration generators, each of which corresponds to a dot in the E-Braille cell. Whenever a user touches any text on the smartphone screen, the app parses the image and sends the text information to the glove in the form of vibration patterns. As the nature of these vibrations are known to the user, it helps them recognize the letters that are on the screen. Hence, this allows them to read the screen in the same way as they would read braille. The entire system is effectively an electronic braille, and thus the name, E-Braille.
The possibilities that are opened up for blind people by E-Braille are endless. Printing braille scripts tends to be expensive work, as the price of the printers range from $1800 to $5000 and scripts can only be used once. However, E-Braille empowers the user with the ability to easily operate a smartphone, hence a blind person no longer has to limit himself to printed braille scripts. For the visually impaired, the amazing world of Internet would now be easily accessible, thanks to E-Braille.
So how long did it take to come up with an invention that is so simple yet so effective? The gadget was an entry in the Bangladesh stage of Make-a-thon, an international hardware development competition, and the team came up with the entire concept and built the gloves from scratch in just 48 hours. The entry was a smash hit, earning the team first place amongst thirteen other entries. The team further elaborates that the prototype costed them only 2000 taka ($25) to build whereas commercial production would undoubtedly bring down the costs even further. The team, having won the regional stage, participated in the international stage of Make-a-thon, the Maker-fest, which was held in Ahmedabad, India this year where E-Braille was showcased along with more than 100 other innovations from various countries.
So what’s the next step for E-Braille? Jonayet Hossain has already outlined the future augmentation and functionality improvement plans which go beyond reading smartphone screens in his interviews on leading channels, NTV and Banglavision. According to Jonayet, the future E-Braille holds vast potential. The system could help a blind person cross a road with relative ease, help students find their way to their classrooms and could even help a blind person master the numerous aisles inside super shops, by making the vibration generators in the gloves vibrate differently in different zones. The future E-Braille could very well eliminate most of the problems faced by blind people, be it in navigating their world or learning more about it.
In a world where so much depends on how well we are able to perceive our surroundings, the loss of eyesight is something that can never be completely compensated for. However, with inventions like E-Braille, we can rest assured that prospects aren’t bleak for blind people. Team RenoScience has already paved the way, and this should surely tip the dominoes over. Would this result in a cascade of more such solutions? We sure hope so!