Shocked to learn a braille printer can cost $2,000, preventing many blind kids and adults from being able to read braille, one 12-year-old boy used Legos to create a cost-effective option.
When Shubham Banerjee’s mother vetoed his initial science fair project idea — an experiment involving colored lights and plant growth — saying he could do better, the then 12-year-old was forced to get creative.
Around the same time, Banerjee found a pamphlet requesting donations for the blind. Intrigued, he asked his parents how blind people learned to read. His busy parents directed him to Google.
“So I Googled it, ‘how blind people read,’ and I found out about braille, braille printers, how much they cost,” Banerjee said, shocked that a traditional printer was $2,000. “I’ve been to India a couple times, and I’ve seen blind people and a lot of poverty everywhere, and it’s very hard for them.”
Banerjee empathized when he and a friend closed their eyes in attempts to navigate the world as if they were blind.
“We couldn’t walk more than five seconds without thinking there was a pole in front of us,” he said.
He knew there must be a better way to help the blind see.
“I felt like they should not pay over $1,000 just to get what they need to become literate.”
So he got to work building a better, more affordable braille printer using an unlikely material: Lego Mindstorms EV3.
After seven frustrating attempts to modify Lego cars and mechanisms to create holes necessary for braille, he had a breakthrough. Braigo was born.
Excited but filled with self-doubt, he called out for his mom. It was 2 a.m.
“She was very mad,” he said. “I showed it working, and she was really happy. Then she went back to bed.”
Despite using his entire summer vacation to craft the $350 Braigo, Banerjee knew the machine needed a “better brain.” So he built a second version using Intel Edison technology and Python code.
“The Edison didn’t cost too much, and it had built-in wireless, which was super important,” Banerjee explained. “I needed the printer to easily communicate directly with the computer.”
Banerjee also appreciated the Edison’s size, performance and Bluetooth capabilities. When he finished putting the pieces altogether, however, the real reward came from watching other kids use the printer.
“Henry [Wedler] tested both my products,” Benerjee said. “I printed out, ‘Hello, my name is Shubham,’ and he could read that perfectly. That was just amazing, and seeing that it really worked…was just the best feeling.”
It also inspired him to keep working and innovating.
“When I saw the braille dots that came out, I started Braigo Labs, a company dedicated to developing ‘humanely optimized’ technologies that offer affordable solutions to life’s most critical problems.”
Editor’s Note: In this Experience Amazing series, iQ explores how computer technology inside is enabling incredible experiences outside. We look at how computer technology powers new experiences and discoveries in science, the maker movement, fashion, sports and entertainment. To learn more about the tech behind these stories, visit Experience Amazing.