Saunter down any city street and the impact of mobile technology is apparent: lots of folks have their nose in their iPads, phones, and tablets. While the wealth of information that’s available at our fingertips is amazingly impressive, there’s a segment of the population that’s left out: the blind and visually impaired. Navigating a standard touch screen is an inherently ocular experience. The inventors of Blitab have developed a haptic tablet that has the potential to upend the way visually impaired people access content.
Here’s the gist of it: the tablet is just like an e-reader but instead of a traditional LCD display, it has one that’s made out of a smart liquid that forms bubbles on the surface. When the software recognizes text from either a USB drive or webpage, it converts them into Braille letters. “We call the materials ‘tixels’ from ‘tactile pixels’ because we do not use any mechanical elements to trigger the dots,” Kristina Tsvetanova, Blitab’s founder, says.
According to Tsvetanova, there’s a working prototype of the device. But since it’s in the patent-approval phase, she was unable to release images. “Smart liquids” also seem vague and Tsvetanova wasn’t able to divulge exactly how that works for the same reason.
Blitab isn’t the first product to offer a Braille interface. The challenge is making that technology portable and accessible. The current Braille displays are bulky add-ons that you use with a desktop computer or a mobile device and only display few characters at a time. Blitab integrates Braille directly onto the tablet’s screen and 13 to 15 lines at a single time. And while it’s not at the Jony Ive level of industrial design, it’s a heck of a lot nicer than what’s available for sale now since it integrates a Braille display directly with the tablet—there’s no need to carry a clunky second device to access a braille readout of what’s on a screen.
Speaking of Apple, the company has received accolades for VoiceOver, its accessibility software that verbally describes what’s on a screen to users, an alternative to refreshable Braille displays. The software also makes iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches compatible with Braille displays from over a dozen manufacturers. Blitlab will need to realize a clear advantage over the existing, familiar solutions.
Blitab expects to launch its tablet to consumers in 2016 and is trying to raise a round of seed-stage funding to make this happen. It doesn’t have expected pricing for the tablets available, but the goal is to be able to bring the cost lower than the current market for displays, which can be upwards of $15,000 each.
Blitab’s tablet seems like a smart idea—and we’ll believe it once we feel it.