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Genesis of Braille Tutor with Speech

This page has a brief story on how the Braille Tutor concept evolved from an idea into a full-fledged product.

Quick Links on this page:

  1. The First Prototype
  2. The Second Prototype
  3. The Third Prototype
  4. The Fourth Prototype

Prototype# 4 (Latest prototype) of Braille Tutor Concept

The First prototype:

The first prototype was made nearly three years ago in 2009. The device had captive beads with just one Braille cell and used to just produce simple beeps in the speaker.

Prototype# 1 : How it started! The prototype had only beeps and did not have speech.

When we presented it to the local blind school, the teachers and students at the school liked the concept, but implored us to add Speech Capability to the device so that it helps reduce effort of the teacher. That is how the device evolved! We promised to get it into the device some day, but didnt have a road map as to when.

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The Second prototype:

Eventually, when We started this company (Ideas Unlimited) we mentored four Engineering students to build the Second prototype with speech capability as a technology demonstrator. Our company developed the speech playback software from a controllers flash memory, through a speaker which was integrated by the students into the second prototype they had built. But the memory in the controller was not sufficient to store large amounts of data and the students had limited time to do further work in their final year projects. The prototype proved the feasibility of adding speech to the device.

Prototype# 2 : The Second prototype developed by students mentored at our lab

The development costs were mounting and the prototype devices used some imported micro-solenoids which had some limitations due to which the cost of the product would not be viable. When we posted on our blog about this concept, an old friend who works for a UN agency in Geneva (Rajesh Gopalakrishnan Nair - Incidentally he was a classmate in college), found the concept interesting and provided some seed money to keep the development effort going! He also assured that he will promote the product if we complete it. But for this gesture from Mr. Rajesh Nair, we may not have pursued making this into a full fledged product, and may have remained only a technology demonstrator. Much later when we found that government funding was difficult to come through, his support helped us to keep the project going.

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The Third prototype:

The third prototype we developed in house and to address memory problem, we put a 2GB SD Card inside the device to store all the sounds. It took nearly a day of recording and trimming of audio files in a make shift studio like environment in our lab to record all sounds required. Eventually after getting the software and hardware right, we took out the device on field trials, to various blind schools (Rangarao Memorial School for the Blind, Mysore) and NGOs (Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement) who work with the blind in a rural taluk of HD Kote near Mysore. The filed trails, we realized that to teach Indian languages and Abbreviations (very commonly used in Braille script to simplify writing and reading) required two Braille cells.

Prototype# 3 : The third prototype developed at Ideas Unlimited, Mysore

Video of the prototype field-tested at SVYM's (Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement) Community Rehabilitation Program output who work with blind people in Jayapura, HD Kote Road.

Simaltaneously around the time of completion of third prototype, we approached a Government Agency under DST that provides grants for innovations, but it became a huge query and certification from various government agencies that it became an overhead for the project, and eventually we pulled out our grant application and arranged our own funds to continue developing the product. Here we suffered a delay of nearly 6-8 months as we waited on funds.

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The Fourth prototype:

Prototype# 4 (Latest prototype - Near Final prototype) of Braille Tutor Concept

Finally we started work on the Fourth Prototype around April 2012 after we arranged our own funds. We still had one technical challenge to crack the imported solenoids were too expensive to make the product viable and too low in force. This was a critical aspect to be addressed before we formally announced the product.

We then worked with a Mumbai based company Leader Electronics Corporation a solenoid maker in Mumbai Area, to design a coil for our hybrid design of a Solenoid and Linear motor to multiply the force of solenoid. We are now on to the 4th Prototype of the product, but the development has been sluggish due to scarcity of funding. With the last issue on solenoids ironed out, we may be launching the product in a few months from now after we try out the Fifth Prototype which can address most of the commonly face problems in Braille teaching.

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