Robot Can Read Braille Much Faster Than Humans With New Sensor

Braille is a method of physical writing used to allow humans to read by touch — most commonly used as a substitute for printed text by those who may be visually impaired. Both displaying Braille and reading it is difficult to do with machines, but there has been a development in the latter area. A research team has trained a robot to read Braille at a speed far exceeding humans.

The robot was developed by a team at the University of Cambridge. Rather than trying to read Braille by touch, it instead uses a camera and an image recognition algorithm to do the job. Their solution is a bit ironic in a way, given the purpose Braille was created for. The robot can quickly sweep across a Braille display, working at a rate of up to 315 words per minute at 87% accuracy. That’s roughly twice as fast as a human reading Braille, with a similar level of accuracy. Some nifty de-blurring algorithms were needed to achieve this speed from the camera’s video feed.

We’ve also seen some impressive development on the other side of all those little bumps, with two Braille devices taking home awards during the final Hackaday Prize in 2023.
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Hackaday Prize 2023: Low Cost Braille Embosser From 3D Printer Parts

The limited availability of texts transcribed to Braille and the required embossing equipment is a challenge world wide, but especially in poorer countries. To alleviate this problem, a team makers from in Cameroon have been developing BrailleRAP, an open source Braille embosser.

BrailleRAP is built built using commonly available 3D printer components, printed parts, and a laser-cut acrylic or wood frame. Paper is fed between a pair of carriages, the bottom one punching dots with a solenoid while the other acts as the anvil. Sheets of paper are fed in one or two at a time with stepper controlled rollers to control the position. At a cost of about $250, it is about a tenth of the price of the cheapest commercial solution, and the team have created excellent documentation so anyone can build it.

BrailleRAP was inspired by BRAIGO, another Hackaday-featured embosser assembled LEGO Mindstorm parts. We also featured another simple, but ingenious handheld embosser for portable use.

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DIY Braille Embosser Is Really Impressive

We weren’t surprised to learn that Braille tools are quite expensive. But it’s interesting to hear that there’s another class of tools altogether, and they are very cheap and imprecise. In devising the Braille Embossing Experience, aka BEE, [alatorre] sought to find an open-source middle ground. We think they succeeded marvelously.

Another surprising thing — while handheld embossers do exist, there is no system for filling out an A4 sheet of paper, say, to write a letter.

For Braille to be readable, the characters and lines must be properly spaced, and this requires some kind of moveable type-like device to correctly register the characters onto paper. BEE fills this void as well. The amazing thing is, there’s not much more to it than a marked-up piece of aluminum and some clever 3D printing.

There are two parts to this system — the positioning rail, which includes a landing box for the embosser with six holes in the bottom. The other part is a pair of embossers, one for letters A-M, and another for letters N-Z. To use BEE, just slide the rail to the right and start embossing letters right to left, then flip the paper over when finished.

Need to create something more permanent? Make a Braille PCB.

Braille Keyboard Finds Its Voice

If you have a serious visual impairment, using a computer isn’t easy. [Dhiraj] has a project that allows people fluent in Braille to use that language for input. In addition to having a set position for fingers, the device also reads the key pressed as you type. With some third party software it is possible to even create Word documents, according to [Dhiraj].

You can see the finished product in the video below. This is one of those projects where the idea is the hardest part. Reading six buttons and converting them into characters is fairly simple. Each Braille character uses a cell of six bumps and the buttons mimic those bumps (although laid out for your fingers).

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Not All Raspberry Pi Laptops Have QWERTY Keyboards And Screens

Our recent coverage of a Raspberry Pi Zero inside the official Pi keyboard prompted a reader to point us to another far more unusual keyboard with a Pi Zero inside it. It may be a couple of years old, but [Mario Lang]’s Braille keyboard and display with built-in Pi is still an interesting project and one that should give sighted readers who have not encountered a Braille display an introduction to the technology.

The model in question is a Handy Tech Active Star 40, which seems to have been designed to have a laptop sit on top of it. A laptop was not the limit of its capabilities, because it also has a compartment with a handy USB connector that was intended to take a smartphone and thus makes a perfect receptacle for a Pi Zero. Sadly the larger boards are a little tall with their connectors.

If this hack were preformed today he would undoubtedly have used a Pi Zero W, but since the Zero he had did not possess WiFi he relied upon a Bluetooth dongle for connectivity to the outside world. The BRLTTY screen reader provides a Braille interface to the Linux console, resulting in an all-in-one Braille computer in a very compact form factor.

This is one portable Braille computer, but it’s by no means the only one we’ve seen. Thanks [Simon Kainz] for the tip, and here’s a nod to the Pi keyboard that inspired him.

Braille On A Tablet Computer

Signing up for college classes can be intimidating, from tuition, textbook requirements, to finding an engaging professor. Imagine signing up online, but you cannot use your monitor. We wager that roughly ninety-nine percent of the hackers reading this article have it displayed on a tablet, phone, or computer monitor. Conversely, “Only one percent of published books is available in Braille,” according to [Kristina Tsvetanova] who has created a hybrid tablet computer with a Braille display next to a touch-screen tablet running Android. The tablet accepts voice commands for launching apps, a feature baked right into Android. The idea came to her after helping a blind classmate sign up for classes.

Details on the mechanism are not clear, but they are calling it smart liquid, so it may be safe to assume hydraulic valves control the raised dots, which they call “tixels”. A rendering of the tablet can be seen below the break. The ability to create a full page of braille cells suggest they have made the technology pretty compact. We have seen Braille written on PCBs, a refreshable display based on vibrator motors, and a nicely sized Braille keyboard that can fit on the back of a mobile phone.

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