How many times a day do you look at your phone? Dozens? Hundreds? We can’t help ourselves. With smartphones pinging and vibrating for every text and email, it’s hard not to look. But what if you couldn’t?
For the visually-impaired, using the phone has always been a challenge. With analog phones and even early smartphones, there was a familiar layout of buttons that could be memorized and dialed sans sight. But smartphones don’t have buttons anymore, just a big screen that changes functionality at the slightest touch. Now, researchers in India have completed a prototype of what could become the world’s first braille smartphone, able to turn digital apps and text into braille.
The phone was designed by Sumit Dagar, whose start-up is being incubated at the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship in Ahmedabad. According to the Times of India, Dagar is “a post-graduate from the National Institute of Design (NID), says he was motivated to develop the device when he realised that so far, technology was only serving the mainstream and ignoring the marginalised.”
So how can a smartphone possibly relay ever-changing messages in a format that is touched rather than seen? According to Dagar, it all starts with Shape Memory Alloy technology, which is based on the concept that metals remember their original shapes, i.e. expand and contract to its original shape after use.
The phone’s ‘screen’ has a grid of pins, which move up and down depending on the message or app. The grid has a Braille display, where pins elevate or descend to represent a character or letter. After the text or email or webpage loads on the screen, the pins form a braille version that the user can touch to read.
“”The response during the test has been immense. It comes out as a companion more than a phone to the user. We plan to do more advanced versions of the phone in the future,” Dagar adds.”
Dagar and his team are shooting for a release by the end of 2013. According to PopSci, the starting price will be 10,000 rupees, or about $185.