haptic-brailleAnyone who has seen the movie Sneakers is familiar with the idea of braille screens for reading by the blind. In the real world, however, braille screens are gimmicky, expensive, non-portable devices prone to mechanical failure, and I am told most blind computer users make do with speech-synthesizers instead (be it on their computer, or via hand-held devices like the Intel or LookTel gadgets I’ve mentioned before).

But speech-synth does have some drawbacks, especially for reading a book—the voice can be annoying, for one thing, getting in the way of immersion into the book (which is why I could never really stand to have any of the speech-synth capable devices I’ve tried read aloud to me for very long). And it keeps you from hearing other things in the environment if you’re using earphones—even more problematic for blind people, who don’t have peripheral vision—or could annoy other people if you don’t.

However, one designer has come up with a concept that could change that, if it ever goes into production. The “Haptic Braille” device, winner of a 2010 Red Dot award, is a capsule-shaped mouse-like gadget that contains a scanner in the bottom, and a set of braille-making pins in the top. A user would run it over the pages of a printed book, and it would OCR, recognize, and translate the letters into braille on the top of the gadget.

It’s just a concept at the moment, and is unclear when or if it will go into production. But as a general idea, Haptic Braille could do a lot to help the blind read printed books, or newspapers, or magazines, rather than the electronic media that is easy for them to process through speech-synth right now.

(Found via Tom’s Guide.)


  1. Some braille displays and note-takers are quite portable, and I’m not sure why you consider them gimmicky, but you’re right that they’re expensive. The cheapest ones are $1700; most sell for $5000-$10,000. That’s one reason they’re not often used; the other reason is that most blind students are no longer taught braille.

    Designers have been promising cheap braille devices for years, but nothing has shown up yet (unless one defines $1700 as cheap). This design certainly looks intriguing; I wonder how the braille cells are produced? As I understand it, making the braille cells refreshable (i.e. having the braille characters change) is what creates the high cost of the current displays.

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