While Braille embossers – or machines that render written words into tactile text – are a resourceful tool for the visually impaired, they often come at a steep price, with most devices costing upwards of $2,000 and weighing at least 20 pounds.
Enter 13-year-old entrepreneur Shubham Banerjee. The eighth-grader is aiming to disrupt the market with a machine he fashioned from a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit – a hardware and software package that enables users to create robots.
Named the Braigo – a portmanteau of the words braille and Lego – the device is a $350 desktop machine that weighs just a few pounds. Initially concocted by Banerjee last year for a school science fair, the device’s second iteration, the Braigo 2.0, can now translate electronic text into braille and then print from a computer or mobile device.
“My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people…using my Braille printer,“ Banerjee told the AP.
In addition to enthusiastic support from the blind community, Banerjee’s creation has already caught the eye of one of Silicon Valley’s leading hardware makers. Intel, where Banerjee’s father is an engineer, invested an undisclosed sum last November, making him the youngest entrepreneur to ever receive venture capital, according to the company.
That investment follows an initial $35,000 injection from Banerjee’s father to get the venture off the ground. And, as he is currently too young, Banerjee’s mother has claimed the title of Braigo Labs’ CEO.
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Initial funds are being used to hire engineers and advisers to develop a prototype as soon as this summer, according to the AP – with the printer slated to hit the market later this year.
Such a machine could be used by the visually impaired to print out letters, household labels, shopping lists and short reading materials, noted Lisamaria Martinez, community services director at the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind, a local nonprofit. Its relatively low price point would also make the technology more accessible to blind readers in developing countries.
"I love the fact that a young person is thinking about a community that is often not thought about,” Martinez told the AP.