It is fascinating what youngsters can come up with in their spare time. Leaving aside those, who find a million different ways to make trouble, the unpolluted minds of some kids can produce an idea worth a fortune. One such example is Shubham Banerjee, a twelve-year-old boy from California, who made a fully functioning braille printer out of LEGO pieces.
What makes braille printers special, is the fact that unlike conventional ink printers, these produce documents that can be read via sight and via touch. They are particularly useful for visually impaired people, who have no other mean to know what is stated on a piece of paper besides the feeling they get through their fingers. One huge limitation of these special printers, however, is their price. In general, to purchase such equipment you have to prepare between US$2,000 and $150,000, a cost which is way beyond what most people can afford.
Banerjee’s printer is much cheaper than that. The total amount spent on everything he needed was $355, $350 for the Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit, which also includes the so-called Banner Print3r reference and a software to allow printing of letters, and the remaining $5 he left at the hardware store for some smaller bits and pieces.
After a number of unsuccessful try-outs, Banerjee produced the fully functioning BRAIGO v1.0. Although not incredibly fast, the prototype does exactly what it should. It prints out letters on a roll of calculator paper. Yes, it is not yet perfected to print full pages, however there is no doubt that slowly but surely it will get there.
The twelve-year old genius is now trying to make the project readily available online and free of charge, by creating an open source software. If he succeeds, the invention will be truly lifesaving for all these disadvantaged people across the globe, who not only have to cope with the lack of sight, but also cannot afford the technology that connects them to the world.
Image (c) Shubham Banerjee