Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular, Low Cost Braille Display

A lot of work with binary arithmetic was pioneered in the mid-1800s. Boolean algebra was developed by George Boole, but a less obvious binary invention was created at this time: the Braille writing system. Using a system of raised dots (essentially 1s and 0s), visually impaired people have been able to read using their sense of touch. In the modern age of fast information, however, it’s a little more difficult. A number of people have been working on refreshable Braille displays, including [Madaeon] who has created a modular refreshable Braille display.

The idea is to recreate the Braille cell with a set of tiny solenoids. The cell is a set of dots, each of which can be raised or lowered in a particular arrangement to represent a letter or other symbol. With a set of solenoids, this can be accomplished rather rapidly. [Madaeon] has already prototyped these miniscule controllable dots using the latest 3D printing and laser cutting methods and is about ready to put together his first full Braille character.

While this isn’t quite ready for a full-scale display yet, the fundamentals look like a solid foundation for building one. This is all hot on the heels of perhaps the most civilized patent disagreement in history regarding a Braille display that’s similar. Hopefully all the discussion and hacking of Braille displays will bring the cost down enough that anyone who needs one will easily be able to obtain and use one.

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21 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular, Low Cost Braille Display

    1. Many *many* years ago (like 35, perhaps) I saw the idea of vibrating Braille dots (they were electromagnetic back then).

      So at least the principle seems viable.

    2. That’s the traditional way of doing it… problem is that to get sufficient movement that it can be easily felt, you need around 70V, which you have to keep well away from the users fingers, which is why they are not cheap.

  1. Nice project, the problem is easy. Create a pin that goes up and down. The design restrictions make it very difficult. Because you need a lot of these devices to create a useful product, so it must be small, energy efficient, require simple/small driving electronics, perhaps noise could be an issue. And last but not least, it must last forever, because the user will not immediately notice it if there is a problem.
    I wonder if people who are reading this are realizing these problems.
    I hope you succeed in this project, it could help so many people.

    1. Yes. :’)
      (They are actually called “refreshable Braille displays” traditionally.)

      This is a great project, I wish them best of luck. If the final BOM is cheap enough, people could build one even without the need driven by visual impairment, i.e. just for fun. Commercial RFDs are too expensive for hackers, though subsidies exist for some with disabilities.

      My grandfather had significant visual impairment. I regret not learning Braille while it was readily available to me. I’d build one for that reason alone.

      Imagine having one of these in your pocket, on your sleeve cuff or along the edge of your phone. You could read anything covertly.

    1. I was wondering the same thing.
      Maybe it was easier for the prototype, or it helps hold the pins’ position when a finger is placed upon them.
      Maybe the code drives them like a stepper motor; I haven’t examined the video or the IO page yet though.

    1. If its adequately designed and spaced, with teh bottom coil repulsing the pin, it should just pop right back up (and would give some feedback resistance to being pushed down)

  2. would be cool to get the feedback from the pin being pushed down against the force of the electromagnet (perhaps this would cause a change in the voltage as it is pressed down) rendering it into a braille push button!

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