At $4,000 each, Braille displays are much too expensive to be of any use to the nearly 8 million visually impaired people living in India.
But thanks to a group of clever computer science students from BITS Pilani’s Goa campus and the Raspberry Pi micro-computer, Project Mudra is here. It’s a cheap Braille display that its creators hope will help address illiteracy among the subcontinent’s visually impaired.
First invented in France in 1824, Braille wasn’t just the world’s first writing system for the visually impaired. It was also the world’s first binary writing system, with each character of Braille determined by a grid of six dots flipped between an “on” and “off” position. It’s a bit like a purely tactile version of a digital clock’s seven-segment LED display.
As part of a workshop last September, computer science students Sanskriti Dawle and Aman Srivastava realized that the digital nature of Braille meant that a Raspberry Pi could easily drive a simple Braille display. They constructed a palm-sized box with six pegs. When attached to a Raspberry Pi, these pegs move up or down to define whatever word or character is being read aloud through the device’s headphone jack.
The result is what Dawler and Srivastav called a Braille “dicta-teacher.” It won’t do all the fancy things that some of the more expensive Braille displays out there do, but each unit only costs about $150 to make, which makes it reasonably affordable–for India.
Affordability is key, because in India, illiteracy amongst the visually impaired is a big problem. Only 10% of the visually impaired in America are illiterate, while in India, the percentage is at least several times that.
When perfected and miniaturized, Dawle and Srivastava hope that Project Mudra will not only help improve literacy rates among the visually impaired in India and in other developing nations, but that it will also train the next-generation of certified Braille teachers. The prototype is still being worked on, but the team is already looking for nonprofit partners to make mass production and distribution of Project Mudra a reality.