Student develops a touchscreen Braille writer software for tablets
Each summer, the Army High-Performance Computing Research Center (AHPCRC) invites a selected group of undergraduates from across the country to gather for a two-month competition where they are assigned mentors and tasked with a challenge. This summer’s winner developed a touchscreen Braille writer which is more affordable than modern Braille writers.
“AHPCRC is an excellent model for outreach, which not only trains undergraduate students in computational sciences but also exposes students to real-world research applications”, said Raju Namburu, the cooperative agreement manager for AHPCRC.
Originally developed for the French military, Braille is a relatively simple code with each character made up of variations of six dots arranged in a 2×3 matrix. A modern Braille writer looks like a typewriter with eight keys. Two keys are used as carriage return and a delete key, while a combination of the remaining six keys forms the desired character. However, the price of these writers can go up to $6,000 or more.
Mentored by Adrian Lew and Sohan Dharmaraja from Stanford University, a student from the New Mexico State University named Adam Duran developed an application that acts as the Braille keypad on a touch-based tablet. Since displays on current tablets don’t have flat displays without haptic interfaces, a blind or visually impaired person can’t rely on touch in order to find the virtual keys.
The researchers came up with a brilliant solution which reverses the process and enables the table to find the fingerprints and adjust the positioning of the virtual keys. The user simply touches the display with eight fingertips, and the keys orient themselves to the fingers. If the user becomes disoriented, a reset is as easy as lifting all eight fingers off the glass and putting them down again. The solution also enables full customization of the layout which automatically adjusts to the users whose fingers are small or large, those who type with fingers close together or far apart.
In a demo, Duran wore a blindfold and used his application to type an email address and a simple subject line. In order to prove that the application can be used to type more complex information, he also inputted the Burgers Equation (mathematical formula) and the chemical equation for photosynthesis.
The application could provide the blind and visually impaired with an affordable and portable way to take notes or other great features such as multimedia playback or text-to-speech programs. Unfortunately, there are some technical and legal hurdles to address before this application becomes commercially available.