Researchers at the University of Michigan are working on a braille tablet that would display more than just lines of text. Thanks to the use of microfluidics, the tablet could display such complex information as graphs and charts, all while still being mobile.

When touch displays became the new standard for mobile devices, it left the blind community behind. There have been huge advancements in text-to-speech software and accessibility features for smartphones and tablets, but there are still a lot of visual concepts that sight impaired are not able to access.

Like reading a chart or graph.

Braille tablet

Technology exists to interpret computer information onto a keyboard-like braille reader. However, it is cumbersome, expensive, and only reads a single line of text at a time.

The University of Michigan researchers are developing a refreshable braille display that uses air or liquid bubbles to create the raised dots on the screen. The microfluidic technology is much smaller and lighter than current braille displays, which use motorized plastic pins that move up and down.

The technology also makes it possible to fit as much as 10,000 dots on the screen, which would allow for interpretation of complex data, so visually impaired persons could read scientific and mathematical information from a tablet more easily.

Though slow going, there are other types of research being done on behalf of the visually impaired. You may recall the Dot smartwatch, which uses braille to send the wearer alerts and notifications, and even makes it possible for a blind person to receive a message without needing text-to-speech to read it out loud.

As technology zooms into the future, it is easy to forget that there are groups of people that don’t have the same opportunities to take advantage of these advancements. Microfluidic technology combined with tablet devices could lead to more accessibility for the blind community.

via Wired UK

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3 replies on “Refreshable braille displays could allow the blind to read graphics”

  1. Hi, I think there is a easier way. The braille app writes braille on screen and the impaired vision person wears a glove that sends raised area through the glove. That way you can use all computers.Regards, Lee

  2. It’s a neat idea, but as has been reported elsewhere this tech is not going to ship for at least five years. Also, there’s no way it could cost a thousand dollars.

    The detail you (and almost everyone else) missed is that there’s only about a million and a half legally blind people in the US, and only ten percent read Braille. With a market that small and limited, the overhead on each unit is going to be a lot higher. I wouldn’t be surprised if it cost as much as the devices it replaces.

    1. Curiously, Wired even mentions the limited number of Braille readers without making the connection between the number of readers and the size of the market.

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