A Braille printer using Lego developed by an Indian-American boy

A
13-year-old of Indian origin has created a low-cost Braille printer using Lego
Mindstorms. With backing from Intel, he has now started his own company to
produce the device. In Silicon Valley, it’s never too early to become an
entrepreneur. The California eighth grader has launched a company to develop
low-cost machines to print Braille, the tactile writing system for the visually
impaired. Tech giant Intel recently invested in his startup, Braigo Labs. Shubham
built a Braille printer with a Lego robotics kit as a school science fair
project last year after he asked his parents a simple question: How do blind
people read? “Google it,” they told him. Shubham then did some online research
and was shocked to learn that Braille printers, also called embossers, cost at
least $2,000 ­ too expensive for most blind readers, especially in developing
countries.

Shubham
Banerjee, right, works on his lego robotics braille printer as his dad Neil
sets up a current computer version of the printer at home in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo Credit:AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“I just thought that price should not be
there. I know that there is a simpler way to do this,” said Shubham, who
demonstrated how his printer works at the kitchen table where he spent many
late nights building it with a Lego Mindstorms. Shubham wants to develop a
desktop Braille printer that costs around $350 and weighs just a few pounds,
compared with current models that can weigh more than 20 pounds. The machine
could be used to print Braille reading materials on paper, using raised dots
instead of ink, from a personal computer or electronic device.

“My
end goal would probably be having most of the blind people… using my Braille
printer,” said Shubham. After the “Braigo“ ­ a name that combines Braille and
Lego ­ won numerous awards and enthusiastic support from the blind community,
Banerjee started Braigo Labs last summer with an initial $35,000 investment
from his dad. “We as parents started to get involved more, thinking that he’s
on to something and this innovation process has to continue,” said his father,
Niloy Banerjee, an engineer who works for Intel.

Shubham
used the money to build a more sophisticated version of his Lego-based printer
using an off-the-shelf desktop printer and a newly released Intel computer
chip. The new model, Braigo 2.0, can translate electronic text into Braille
before printing. Intel executives were so impressed with Shubham’s printer that
in November they invested an undisclosed sum in his startup.

“He’s
solving a real problem, and he wants to go off and disrupt an existing
industry. And that’s really what it’s all about,” said Edward Ross, director of
Inventor Platforms at Intel. Braigo Labs is using the money to hire
professional engineers and advisers to help design and build Braille printers
based on Shubham’s ideas. The company aims to have a prototype ready for blind
organisations to test this summer and have a Braigo printer on the market later
this year, Niloy Banerjee said.

“This
Braille printer is a great way for people around the world who really don’t
have many resources at all to learn Braille and to use it practically,“ said
Henry Wedler, who is blind and working on a doctorate in chemistry at the
University of California, Davis. Wedler has become an adviser to Braigo Labs. An
affordable printer would allow the visually impaired readers to print out
letters, household labels, shopping lists and short reading materials on paper
in Braille, said Lisamaria Martinez, community services director at the San
Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind, a nonprofit center that serves the visually
impaired and prints Braille materials for public agencies.

“I
love the fact “hat a young person is thinking about a community that is often
not thought about,” said Martinez, who is visually impaired. Shubham is too
young to be CEO of his own company, so his mother has taken the job, though she
admits she wasn’t too supportive when he started the project. “I’m really proud
of Shubham. What he has thought, I think most adults should have thought about
it,” Malini Banerjee said. “And coming out of my 13-year-old, I do feel very
proud.” (Source: AP)

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