Hackaday Prize Entry: A Braille Computer

As with all devices meant for a very small percentage of the population, computing equipment for the blind is very, very expensive. A Braille typewriter – a relatively simple machine that puts dots on a piece of paper – costs about $700 USD. Need a Braille interface for a computer? You can buy a 16-cell wide Braille output for $1600, and high-end models with an integrated keyboard go up to $5000.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Haydn Jones] is building a simpler and cheaper Braille computer. It’s not just a single line of text at a time; this computer will have a display that will output an entire page of Braille at a time.

The current solutions for a computer to Braille interface use small electromechanical cells for each character. That’s six individual pins for each character, multiplied by the number of cells on the display. Doing a full-page display with this type of mechanism, but [Haydn] has another idea. Instead of controlling each pin individually, all of the pins on the display will be controlled by a CNC-like mechanism. The pins themselves will be mechanical SR latches, better known as the mechanism in a ball point pen.

A display is only half of the IO of a computer, and for the input portion of his build, [Haydn] is also building a Braille keyboard. This doubles as a binary or hexadecimal keyboard, but the idea is very similar to a proper chorded Braille keyboard. It’s a simple enough build; just a few key switches and a microcontroller.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Reduced-cost Braille display for use with computers

Apparently a Braille computer display can cost several thousand dollars. That’s why [David Pankhurst] is working on a low-cost alternative. His offering is an open source version he calls the Audrey Braille Display.

The concept is quite good. This prototype has one line of six Braille characters. Each character is made of two sliding strips containing eight arrangements of bumps. These can make up any character when positioned correctly. Two motors do all the work, one engages a single strip to reposition it, the other moves the first motor to select which strip should move. This is explained quite well in [David’s] most recent post. Or you can get a preview of the physical build here.

The concept is sound, but the refresh rate must be very slow. We wonder if there’s a way to keep one motor stationary and use solenoids to engage a drive shaft on the individual slide rods? This way, every row could be changed at the same time, disengaging when the appropriate slot is reached.

This hardware is much needed until developing Braille technologies actually come to market.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]