Lego may be a children’s toy, but folks across the world are continually showing us that it can be much more than that. People have used the brightly colored bricks to construct 3D printers, cloning machines, cars and even houses. But that’s not all, as it turns out that a Lego kit helped one budding young entrepreneur begin his ambitious endeavor to help blind people across the world to read.
Last year, when he was just 12-years-old, Shubham Banerjee from California decided to build his own low-cost machine to print Braille, a touch-based writing system for the blind and visually impaired, after learning that the devices cost upwards of $2,000. He believed that there must be a way to make them cheaper so that the technology could become more accessible, especially to those in developing countries. So, for a school science fair project, the seventh-grader decided to see what he could do with Lego’s Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit.
Using the $350 kit and a few supplies from a home renovations store, Banerjee managed to construct a printer based on an existing design and then modified it with new software and hardware enhancements. Using an attached keypad, individuals could type in text which was then converted into Braille by the “Braigo” machine. A thumbtack then punches the raised bumps into a roll of paper. The machine was fairly slow to operate, but it was enough to demonstrate that the concept works.
The prototype went on to win several awards alongside support from the blind community, so Banerjee decided to go one step further and started his own company, Braigo Labs, with the ultimate goal of developing an affordable, lightweight desktop Braille printer. With the help of a $35,000 cash injection from his dad, Banerjee, aged 13, managed to construct an improved version of his original Lego-based model using a commercially available desktop printer and an Intel computer chip. Unlike the Braigo v1.0, this upgraded 2.0 model is capable of translating electronic text into Braille.
US tech firm Intel were so impressed with his invention that they decided to invest an undisclosed sum of money into Banerjee’s startup, which was rumored to be a few hundred thousand dollars. The cash will be used to hire engineers to help design an affordable printer that will allow blind or visually impaired users to print out a variety of texts, including household labels and short reading materials, in Braille. Braigo Labs is hopeful that a prototype will be ready for testing this summer, and if it’s a success, it will go on the market towards the end of the year.