MIT engineering students have developed a labeling device to help identify just about anything by blind people. If you’re not blind, just imagine sorting through a CD or record collection without being able to see.
A team of MIT students in last fall’s Product Engineering Processes (2.009) class searched for a better way. They came up with a prototype device that is small and easily portable, can produce the entire panoply of possible Braille characters (including commonly used two-character contractions), and can be relatively easily loaded and operated by touch. Although it is still under development, they hope the device, which they have named the 6dot Braille Labeler, can ultimately be produced for sale at around $200.
Some of the students continued to refine the product after the class ended, producing an improved version that won a $7,500 prize in the spring IDEAS competition (a joint project of the MIT Public Service Center and the Edgerton Center that recognizes innovations that benefit communities worldwide). Eight students from the mechanical engineering department, some who graduated in June and others who are still enrolled, joined by two others, are in the process of forming a company to continue development of the labeler. Over the summer they conducted field tests around the country with 25 potential users of the product, giving each about a half-hour to work with the device.
The battery-operated 6dot device uses standard Dymo label tape, and has a built-in microprocessor that can store up to 16 characters in case the user types faster than the device can emboss the tape. It has six buttons across the top — one for each of the six dots in that make up a Braille character — that can be operated by placing two hands on the unit’s top, very much like touch-typing. The device makes sounds as it embosses each character, providing some auditory feedback to confirm that it’s working.
When the label is finished, the user activates a built-in blade to cut the label off. Ultimately, the developers plan to add another blade that will score the end of the tape to make it easier to peel off the backing, but that has proved more difficult to achieve than they had anticipated.
They’re also working on simplifying the system for loading and unloading a roll of tape to make that easier to do by touch. Right now, "it’s a little more challenging than we’d like it to be," Pikhart says. They hope to make it as easy as loading and ejecting a VHS tape cartridge.
MIT press release: Braille made simple…