Bangalore's IIIT developing affordable Braille reader for students

The institute has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IT firm Touchétech Labs Pvt Ltd and the NGO Vision Empower to develop the device. 

Published: 09th October 2019 05:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th October 2019 11:57 AM   |  A+A-

A student at Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind using the device

Express News Service

BENGALURU:  Students who are visually challenged can enhance their learning experience with a new Braille reader which will easily fit in the palm. It is expected to hit the markets in six months. The aim of developing such a product in India, home to one-fourth of the world’s visually challenged population, is to help millions of such students be able to have access to affordable Braille technology.

The International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore, (IIIT-B) is developing what may be India’s cheapest refreshable Braille reader (RBD), or a Kindle-like device. The prototype, being developed at the IIIT-B campus, is being re-engineered and designed to cost about Rs15,000-20,000. 

The 8GB unit, which comes loaded with textbooks, stories and graphics, could be used by students from Class 1 to Class 12. Students will also be able to develop the required content/data from an app which will be specifically developed for the purpose towards the year-end. The institute has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IT firm Touchétech Labs Pvt Ltd and the NGO Vision Empower to develop the device. 

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti, faculty member at IIIT-B, who heads the project, said, “A large number of visually challenged students in our country are unable to afford the available Braille readers. Hence, the product, which was originally developed by Paul D’ Souza from Touchétech Labs Pvt Ltd, needed to be re-engineered and designed to make it more portable and cheaper.

The heavy pricing of such products is usually due to the elaborate software and hardware. So, the first step was to replace the sophisticated hardware and introduce simple algorithms to bring down the price.” Currently, the prototypes are undergoing user surveys and through the Vision Empower, they have handed over the devices to potential users to ascertain the practical use of the product, he added.

‘All Braille tech in Indian market targets adults’

Researchers at IIIT-B have also used Artificial Intelligence-backed technology to test the device for any inaccuracies. “We have developed an automated stress testing system which uses AI and machine learning which gives instant feedback on the working module of the device. It also removes the need for manual checking of the device which would have rendered it more expensive,” he said.

This RBD was originally developed by Paul D’Souza 10 years ago, but due to paucity of funds, the product was not manufactured.D’Souza had applied for a government grant in 2010 to scale up manufacturing of the device and produced 10 prototypes in 10 years. “I collaborated with Sapient, a US-based firm where I worked, to make the device more affordable and portable. Later, the NGO Vision Empower approached me and then we took the help of the faculty at IIT-B,” D’Souza  said.

Rajagopal of Vision Empower, who works with the visually challenged students across schools in Karnataka, said Braille books are very costly and not available to the all students. Hence, the development of such technology is much needed.

“All kind of Braille technology available in Indian markets is targeted at adults. And such devices have WiFi connectivity and other requirements which is not practical for students. We have loaded everything from story books to multiple-choice questions in the product. We have given the products to students on a pilot project basis and the response has been great,” Rajagopal said.

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