People who are blind or visually impaired can now read a wide variety of texts by using speech-to-text software. However, this technique is limited because it leaves out visual elements, such as images, music, coding, and math. A team of University of Michigan researchers is developing a solution that puts a modern twist on a 200-year-old system. They are building a tablet that uses Braille, the system of raised dots that people can use to read with their fingertips instead of their eyes.
Electronic Braille displays already exist, but they leave much to be desired. They cost thousands of dollars, are the size of a laptop, and they are limited to displaying one line of text at a time. This is a tedious way to read, and it leaves no room for visual components such as charts and diagrams. While current Braille displays use plastic pins that are controlled by a motor, the new tablet employs microfluidics. With this new method, liquid or air fills tiny bubbles that take the shape of the blocks and raised dots for Braille. MIT Technology Review explains that “each bubble has what is essentially a logic gate that opens or remains closed to control the flow of liquid after each command.”
The Michigan team aims to make topics like science and math more easily accessible to the blind by developing a $1,000 Braille tablet that can display the equivalent of a page of Kindle text at once.