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A WHOLE NEW WORLD

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Team Sparsh says it’s time to give back to society

 

Device developed by engineers helps the visually impaired use tools such as the Internet and E-commerce

Do you know, of the 37 million blind people across the globe, over 15 million are from India? And because of their blindness, many of them stay illiterate because of lack of educational and poverty.

Vivekananda, a visually impaired student at the Rakum School for Blind, Indiranagar, has done an MA and now he is preparing for the Civil Services exams. He says, “I don’t have many books to read. Whatever I have, they are very big and heavy. It really gets difficult to carry them with us always. Also, I think exposure to Internet will help in many ways.”

Seeing what Vivekananda and other blind students go through in their daily lives, four young engineering graduates have come up with a device that will give visually impaired people access to braille content via a screen. It is a form of writing used by people who are blind.

Have you ever thought of how visually impaired people navigate through e-commerce sites or surf the internet? Well, to help users access e-commerce, a device called Sparsh will route them through a special portal that will convert the screen text into braille in real-time and read it out so the user can select the product at the press of a tab on the device and then go on to the payment process.

Sparsh is an electro-mechanical technology that reproduces the content of a smartphone or a computer on a rolling display in braille. The device can be connected to your computer or phones via Bluetooth. While right now, the device is about the size of a small shoe box, the final product will be as small as a digital mouse, with the rolling braille display running on it like a scroller. It is expected to be launched by the end of this month.

Sparsh is the brainchild of four city-based engineers — Kiran L Reddy, Rohit Neil, Siddhanth Gaonkar of CMR Institute of Technology and Vishnu Ramakrishna of MVJ College of Engineering, Bengaluru. They all graduated together in 2016. Another student of the Rakum School for Blind and the current headmistress, Bhavya SN, says, “One page of normal text is three pages in braille. So, braille users have to refer to heavy books and it gets really difficult to carry around every time. If the device is launched in the market, it will help us get rid of that load as it’s a small, portable device. That will be of great value to us. Somehow, we have given some suggestions to the team about how can they improve the device. Right now, the braille shows only one character at a time, which is good for beginners, but for us it is a bit slow. If they make two or more characters together, the device will be perfect for us.”

Sparsh is an attempt at bridging the gap between technology and the visually impaired. This device enables the visually impaired to stream digital data into its equivalent Braille output in real-time. It consists of a single cell forming a rolling display that is projected onto the user’s finger, thereby enabling them to read out digital content and access media. With the world moving rapidly into the digital space, the visually impaired use assistive technology like screen-readers and magnification tools to engage in the digital space, which however, are not supported by many banking firms. This initiative would help visually impaired cope up with the challenges they face as the evolves.

The device also has a memory card. Once it is switched on, a blind student can connect to it with an earphone via an audiojack and browse the files. The machine also reads out the file names or they can also use the braille display to read and the select the files.

The device will be the first of its kind in India, but it is not a breakthrough invention. There are similar gadgets available in western countries. But what sets it apart is its low cost. It is priced at just Rs. 5,000 – Rs. 6,000 while a comparable device in the US costs $2,000, or about Rs 1.29 lakh in India. The starting price of such devices is Rs 75,000.

After getting placed in MNCs, the team decided to get down to work on their project Sparsh. The idea, according to them, was to give back to society.

Features in a nutshell

* The device can be connected to a PC or any phone via Bluetooth – once the device is connected, the digital data entered in the phone or the PC is sent to the device and the device converts the digital data into Braille

* The device also has a speed control knob so that the user can read at his/her own pace

* The device also has a SD card slot and a USB slot so that the user can store the digital data in real-time

* Speech-to-Braille conversation in real-time

* Works as a portal for data and information. Enables the user to get updates, modules, browse blogs and real-time news updates

* Perkins-style Bluetooth enabled-keyboard, making inputs easier and enabling Internet browsing

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