OpenBraille is an Impressive DIY Embosser

In 2024, the Braille system will have been around for 200 years. What better way to mark the occasion than with an open source project devoted to making embossing equipment affordable for the visually impaired? This long overdue cause became the plight of [ccampos7], who couldn’t find a DIY embosser kit and set out to build one himself.

While other embossers forcibly punch the letters in one go, OpenBraille takes a more gradual approach to ensure a clean impression with a rolling motion. Paper is placed between a mechanical encoder with moving pins and a dimpled roller that provides resistance and a place to land. The embossing head is driven by an Arduino Mega and a standard RAMPS board, as the rest of the system relies on Cartesian movement.

The encoder and roller.

The encoder mechanism itself is pretty interesting. A micro servo drives a 3D printed wheel with three distinct tracks around half of the edge. The peaks and valleys encoded in these plastic tracks actuate the embossing pins, which are made from nails embedded through the sides of hex nuts. There’s a quick demo of the encoder movement after the break, and another video of it in action on the OpenBraille Facebook page.

[ccampos7] has all the files up on Thingiverse and plans to post the software soon. You should also check out this compact embosser that was recognized in the first round of the 2017 Hackaday Prize which is a nice all-print Braille concept. Continue reading “OpenBraille is an Impressive DIY Embosser”

Making Braille Signs out of PCBs

[jg] recently passed some damaged Braille signs and took on the challenge of repairing them. Informed by his recent work on PCB lapel pins, [jg] immediately thought of using circuit boards for this project. He’d noticed that round solder pads made for uniform hills of solder, and this reminded him of the bumps in Braille.

He began by reading up on the standards of the Braille Authority of North America, which stipulates a dot height of 0.6mm. He loaded up the PharmaBraille font system and laid it out the dots in photoshop, then and imported it into KiCad and laid out the boards. When the PCBs had arrived from OSH Park, [jg] soldering up the pads (lead free, but of course) to see if he could get the hills to 0.6mm. He’s experimenting with different methods of melting the solder to try to get more even results.

Braille interfaces crop up a surprising amount in hacker projects. This refreshable Braille display and keyboard and the Braigo LEGO Braille printer are prime examples.

[thanks, Drew!]

Becdot Teaches With Touch

Braille is a tactile system of communication, used the world over by those with vision impairment. Like any form of language or writing, it can be difficult to teach and learn. To help solve this, [memoriesforbecca] has developed Becdot as a teaching tool to help children learn Braille.

The device is built around four Braille cells, which were custom-designed for the project. The key was to create a device which could recreate tactile Braille characters at low cost, to enable the device to be cheap enough to be used a children’s toy. The Braille cells are combined with an NFC tag reader. Small objects are given NFC tags which are programmed into the Becdot. When the object is placed onto the reader, the Braille cells spell out the name of the object. Objects can be tagged and the system programmed with a smartphone, so new objects can be added by the end user.

It’s a great way to teach Braille, and an impressive build that keeps costs down low. Details are a little thin on the ground, and we’d love to see more detail on how the actuators on the Braille cells work. We’ve seen similar projects before, like this Hackaday prize entry. Share your theories in the comments below.

Hackaday Prize Entry: MOLBED Braille Display

Electromechanical braille displays, where little pins pop up or drop down to represent various characters, can cost upwards of a thousand dollars. That’s where the Modular Low-cost Braille Electro Display, aka MOLBED, steps up. The project’s creator, [Madaeon] aims to create a DIY-friendly, 3D-printable,  and simple braille system. He’s working on a single character’s display, with the idea it could be expanded to cover a whole row or even offer multiple rows.

[Madeon]’s design involves using Flexinol actuator wire to control whether a pin sticks or not. He designed a “rocker” system consisting of a series of 6 pins that form the Braille display. Each pin is actuated by two Flexinol wires, one with current applied to it and one without, popping the pin up about a millimeter. Swap polarity and the pin pops down to be flush with the surface.

This project is actually [Madeon]’s second revision of the MOLBED system. The first version, an entry to the Hackaday Prize last year, used very small solenoids with two very small magnets at either end of the pole to hold the pin in place. The new system, while slightly more complex mechanically, should be easier to produce in a low-cost version, and has a much higher chance of bringing this technology to people who need it. It’s a great project, and a great entry to the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Braille Keypad For SmartPhone

A few things stand out about [Vijay]’s braille keypad for smartphones. One is how ergonomic the plans for the final result are, sitting on the back of the smartphone such that you hold the phone much as you often normally would. Another is that it plugs in just like any other USB keyboard. And the last should make any vi user smile — you don’t have to move your fingers to type. You just press combinations of buttons already under your fingers.

It consists of a custom circuit board with an AtMega32U4, a 16 MHz oscillator, a Micro-USB connector and eight pushbutton switches.  The AtMega32U4 allows him to use the Arduino HID library. After mapping the braille button combinations to keys, the HID library sends the key values over a USB-OTG cable to the smartphone to be accepted as if they were coming from a normal plug and play keyboard.

We have to give kudos to [Vishay] for testing with blind people experienced with braille. For example, he’s learned that if the user presses [Dots 1 2] for ‘b’ followed by [Dots 1 4] for ‘c’, they prefer to not have to remove their finger from the 1 in between the two characters, for more rapid typing.  He also learned that battery management is problematic and that may be why he’s since abandoned the option of communicating over Bluetooth, leaving just USB, and thereby eliminating the need for a battery.

[Vijay]’s project is a finalist for the Internet of Useful Things Hackaday Prize and we’re eager to see what the final result will look like. But in the meantime, check out his hackaday.io and GitHub pages, and see the video below of one iteration of his keypad in use.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: A Braille Keypad For SmartPhone”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Compact Braille Printing Press

For the last few years of the Hackaday Prize, we’ve seen a few projects that aim to bring Braille to the masses in a cheap, easy to use electronic device. Aside from the interesting technology that would go into such a device like tiny motors moving even tinier bumps, these projects are a great example of an enabling technology.

For his Hackaday Prize project, [haydn jones] is building something that makes Braille more accessible, but without all that messy technology. It’s 3D printed movable type for Braille. It’s a Braille printing press for nurses, teachers, and anyone else who would like to leave small notes for people who read Braille.

This Hackaday Prize project is the answer to the question, ‘how do you leave a note for a blind person’. Yes, digital voice recorders exist, but movable type is a technology that’s thousands of years old and doesn’t require batteries or any of the other failings of modern electronics. To use this device, all you need to do is assemble a message — a handy Braille cheat sheet is coming soon — and emboss a piece of paper. Keep in mind Braille embossers cost a small fortune, and this project is simple and cheap bits of plastic.

It’s a great idea, and one we’re surprised we haven’t seen before. All in all, a great entry for The Hackaday Prize.

Visual Scanner Turns Obstacles into Braille

This interesting project out of MIT aims to use technology to help visually impaired people navigate through the use of a haptic feedback belt, chest-mounted sensors, and a braille display.

The belt consists of a vibration motors controlled by what appears to be a Raspberry Pi (for the prototype anyway) with a distance sensor and camera connected as well. The core algorithm is designed to take input from the camera and distance sensors to compute the distance to obstacles, and to buzz the right motor to alert the user — fairly expected stuff. However, the project has a higher goal: to assist in identifying and using chairs.

Aiming to detect the seat and arms, the algorithm looks for three horizontal surfaces near each other, taking extra care to ensure the chair isn’t occupied. The study found that, used in conjunction with a cane, the system noticeably helped users navigate through realistic environments, as measured by minor and major collisions. Users recorded dramatically fewer collisions as compared to using the system alone or the cane alone. The project also calls for a belt-mounted braille display to relay more complicated information to the user.

We at HaD have followed along with several braille projects, including a refreshable braille display, a computer with a braille display and keyboard, and this braille printer.

Continue reading “Visual Scanner Turns Obstacles into Braille”