Published: 04th March 2019
IIT-Delhi researchers develop 'DotBook', India's first Braille laptop for the visually-impaired
Instead of a screen, the laptop displays embossed text in Braille through the help of a touchpad. Users will get to feel everything a website has by just touching the pad
Aiming at creating Independent Access to Digital Content for the Visually Impaired (VI), IIT Delhi researchers and alumnus, have developed a Braille laptop called the DotBook for the visually impaired. In what these researchers claim to be a first in the country, the laptop has got important conventional applications such as email, calculator, and web browser and has an interface in form of dots or Braile instead of a visual one. It also has the provision to add third-party apps if needed.
Pulkit Sapra, 26, from Delhi and Suman Muralikrishnan, 27, from Chennai — both researchers at IIT-Delhi opted out of their placements and continued researching and working on the idea, which after five years has been launched as India’s first laptop for visually-impaired.
"It all started as a student project and our aim was to make digital content available in Braille to the visually-impaired. Earlier, if they had to read something it had to be embossed on paper, but there is so much content on the digital platform that it is not humanly possible to emboss everything. Thus, we wanted to create a standalone device that would help the visually impaired to read digital content through Braille," explains Pulkit.
The researchers launched the product in two variants called 40Q and 20P. The 40Q variant can have 40 characters per line and features a conventional QWERTY keyboard and a Braille keyboard, while the 20P version can have 20 characters in a line and has only a Braille keyboard. The two versions of the laptops are also equipped with refreshable Braille display.
Joining the dots: The laptop also has a specially designed hand-rest to help the users to work for long hours
The laptop has been developed on the basis of multiple user trials in order to take care of the needs of the user community. Instead of a screen, the laptop displays embossed text in Braille through the help of a touchpad. Users will get to feel everything a website has by just touching the pad. The most difficult task for the researchers was putting in maximum information in a single line and yet making it user-friendly. Among other features, the laptop also has a specially designed hand-rest to help the users to work for long hours without any type of hindrance in the users' efficiency.
The researchers have developed the laptop in collaboration with KritiKal Solutions Pvt Ltd., Noida, Saksham Trust, New Delhi, Pheonix Medical Systems Pvt. Ltd., Chennai, and Wellcome Trust of UK. KritiKal Solutions will manufacture, maintain and market the laptops. Phoenix Medical Systems will be providing the modules for refreshable Braille display.
Dipendra Manocha, Managing Director, Saksham Trust and President of the DAISY Forum of India, shared that "DotBook opens up Digital life to Braille users. It creates an eco-system that allows people who read and write in Braille, to communicate seamlessly with the rest of the world using normal print. It is so heartening to see the cost reduction that DotBook offers to this wonderful solution."
The DotBook is scheduled to be opened for bookings starting March 2019. Product deliveries would only start later this year. The present-day refreshable Braille devices cost on an average USD 4000 for similar featured versions, making them expensive for users even in high-income countries while being completely unaffordable for those in other countries like India. DotBook is built on IIT Delhi’s patented Shape Memory Alloy Technology that helps bring this cost down by almost 75 per cent, and thus helping make this solution accessible to the millions who were previously un-catered-to. This becomes very significant as low-income countries contribute to over 90 per cent of the world’s visually impaired population.
"As compared to the international devices, our device is affordable but we would like to make it even more accessible in the future with the help of government subsidies or similar schemes. Currently, they will be up for sale through our partners like Saksham and the others, later we would also like to make it available on several online platforms," concludes Pulkit.