By developing revolutionary new Braille display technologies we at Bristol Braille Technology Ltd. are attempting to transform the lives of blind & visually impaired people around the world. Our projects will provide access to tactile digital reading, which the vast majority do not currently have. This absence seriously restricts the number of opportunities to become literate, even damaging the value of literacy itself.
Our ultimate goal is to have Braille displays that are affordable for every blind child & adult, anywhere in the world, & to see a measurable improvement in literacy as a result.
“I had the opportunity this year to teach four people who have recently lost their sight to read Braille ... Truly an amazing thing to watch these individuals who thought they'd never read again, reading, truly reading, not listening, not hearing a synthetic voice or a human voice interpreting information, but actually doing the interpretation themselves ... If there could be a Braille display which would serve their needs, it would be a miracle.”
— ‘Ann P.’, May 2012
“My biggest frustration is the cost of Braille displays. The only reason I have mine to use is because of my job at the university. Were I to leave this job, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get one of my own. As someone who trains others in the use of assistive technology, I can attest to the fact that many of the people I work with would love to have access to a Braille display, but cannot due to their cost. ”
— ‘Keith’, May 2012
“I cannot find the words to say how great the work is that you & your colleagues are doing to make a Braille unit that it is accessible to everyone ... It will make such a huge difference to so many, many people.”
— Gaela Benn, October 2012
“First off, as someone who has been blind all my life, let me say that I fully support your goal of cheap Braille. I hate to see Braille literacy plummeting as it has done since speech-based computer access has become so wide-spread, & anything to reverse that troubling trend is wonderful.”
— Alex Hall, January 2013
Bristol Braille Technology is a not-for-profit organisation* dedicated to serving the blind community through invention & the provision of Braille devices. The great majority of our work to date has been done on a voluntary or part-voluntary basis. We operate out of the Bristol Hackspace, which is a part of the international ‘Maker Movement’ of co-operative, collaborative workshops.
Existing Braille displays are far too expensive, costing in excess of $2,500 ( £1,500 ). We aim to produce displays for around $300 ( £200 ).
The piezoelectric motors which individually drive each & every pin in the current range of Braille Displays are the primary reason for the high prices. We intend to get around this by using entirely different technical solutions. One of the primary challendges is to ensure that our Braille display technology is not only reliable but rugged under challenging conditions such as, for example, a primary school classroom.
Our approach to the problem has always been the same.
There may, indeed we hope their will, at some point be a marvelous new material that can transform itself into a perfect replica of printed Braille. But until that day comes, & until it becomes affordable, there has to be a 'low-tech' solution that does not require a multi-million dollar development lab to implement. This is not just low-tech for the sake of it. By avoiding huge developmental overheads we can reduce the final price of the technology for Braillists, thereby increasing the number & geographical range of people who can benefit from digital Braille.
We therefore concentrate on these mechanical principles. Firstly, there needs to be a disconnect between the pins themselves & the cost. In other words, the pins must be cheap & increasing their number should not significantly increase the cost of the whole unit. Secondly, we use off-the-shelf components whereever possible.**
We operate as a collaborative Social Enterprise centred in Bristol, England. Our current team is composed of the following ( in order of association with BBT ), many of whom are operating on a voluntary basis;
Technical contributions have also previously been provided by the following ( in order of association with BBT );
Our Board of Advisors is composed of the following members ( in order of association with BBT ), all of whom are acting on a voluntary basis;
Advise has also previously been provided by the following ( in order of association with BBT );
Particular thanks must go to the redoubtable NK & endlessly patient Keith, without whom the project would never have reached the stage it is at now.
We are proud to have worked with & been supported by the following organisations ( in order of association with BBT );
Our various projects have been on-going since early 2008. In the early years we investigated a number of different designs, including those based on continuous loops, ticker-tapes, dot-matrix printers & biometals.
Prior to the 6th of January 2011 this was a purely personal endeavour by Ed Rogers. Since then, & since our official formation as a Community Interest Company a month later, we have flourished into a small but active & committed team.
From August 2011 we have been developing the Quixote, based on the principle of slider-patterns & parallel actuation.
In September 2012 we began the parallel development of our all-new full-page b-book reader, Canute.
Join us on the forums to ask questions, make suggestions, or propose & discuss concepts. Alternately you can reach us by post, pigeon, telegram, telephone, dead letter drop or e-mail.
We welcome expressions of interest from testers, potential customers, well-wishers & those interested in joining the development process. If you live in the Westcountry, are able travel to Bristol, or are associated with a Hackspace then we would be doubly interested.
We are currently looking for a variety of individuals who would be interested in testing our prototypes; most particularly Braillists of course, but also teachers & parents of would-be Braillists. Please do get in touch if this is could be you.
The Quixote is our ongoing project to compete with current Braille displays. It uses a parallel slider-encoder mechanism to set Braille pins in either six or eight dot format with a series of ridged sliders. As of late 2012, the concept described in the Youtube video ( see below ) continues to be worked on by a third party. We are not at liberty to discuss this in any detail at the moment, but hopefully we will have progress to report soon. Meanwhile we at Bristol Braille continue to see how we can take the basic idea of the slider-encoder & apply it to less conventional displays, as we work in tandem with this third party.
Our newest refreshable Braille concept, begun in September of 2012, Canute is an attempt to build a full-page Braille e-book reader; or b-book reader. We’re keeping this one close to our collective chest for now. Suffice to say it is mechanical, but is neither related nor technically similar to either the Quixote or, so far as we are aware, any other published mechanical design.
“Printed books are plentiful & affordable, however, Braille books are presently scarce & expensive. A reliable, affordable, & universally useful electronic Braille book reader has eluded researchers & manufacturers for decades.”
— P. Duran, D. Gipson & L. Jenkins, Braille for the New Millennium, Jan 2000
We are indebted to Ingrid Dijkers for donating the background image, & to Kroc Camen for creating the excellent Open Source NoNonsense Forum.
All materials associated with Bristol Braille Technology, the Quixote, Canute & other related projects belong to either Ed Rogers ( prior to 2011 ) or Bristol Braille Technology Ltd., except where clearly stated otherwise.
We recommend the following as authoritative sources of information about Braille.
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