Case Study

An Android powered Braille Smart Device for NBP opens a world of possibilities for the visually impaired

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“Zone 24×7 has surpassed all of my expectations in regard to their insight, knowledge, and support of a project that has had its share of turns in the road. I am impressed with the dedication, versatility and commitment that their team has demonstrated. They act more like dedicated employees than consultants.”

Brian A. Mac Donald
President – National Braille Press – USA

Our Client

National Braille Press (NBP), founded in 1927, is the premier Braille publisher in the USA. They support a lifetime of opportunity for the blind community through braille literacy, outreach programs, and provide access to information by producing information in Braille for blind children and adults.

In 2010, NBP reached out to Zone24x7 with an idea of a smart device, which could offer a completely new experience for the visually impaired community.

Challenges

National Braille Press collaborated with Zone24x7 to design a Braille mobile computing device with a refreshable Braille display designed specifically for the blind. NBP is a leading publisher of Braille material for the blind community. The leading nonprofit organization believed that innovative technology offered for the blind could promote Braille literacy and offer a viable alternative to paper Braille.

This new smart device experience was somewhat of a hybrid experience, which sat between a Braille Note-taker and a modern Smartphone and demonstrated comparable or better Braille note taking and smartphone capabilities.

In order to support further adoption of this concept, the device had to fully embrace an “open” design. The “Open” design will not only be limited to “open software” but also “open hardware” encouraging interested parties and the community at large to innovate on top of the platform.

Back in 2010, Android offered limited support for Braille integration posing a significant technical challenge. However, the choice of Android offered a superior mobile OS and very large and active community of developers who would develop applications on this device. The product design team also had to ensure that mobile app developers were not required to have Braille literacy.
The choice of “Braille” provides an easy to use, well-standardized, multilingual interface for the blind end users.

How We Helped

Our team did the initial R&D on technology selection while focusing on the final goal, which was to offer the visually impaired the “Modern day smartphone” experience (Android experience).

Thus, the new device Braille to go (b2g) was based on

  • OMAP DM3730 1-GHz ARM® Cortex™-A8 Core processor
  • 512MB DDR3 RAM
  • 1GB of NAND flash with *GB on internal storage (extendable up to 128GB
  • 5400mAh Lithium polymer battery
  • Speech input and output
  • Accelerometer, GPS, Compass, Camera
  • Wifi, Bluetooth, USB

while replacing the typical Android touch display interface with a Braille character display and a Braille keypad.

The total end-to-end design was done at the Zone24x7 Advanced Technology Center in Sri Lanka, which included,

  • A ground up hardware design
  • Firmware and embedded software design
  • High level applications

At the time it was released b2g came with a specification, which was comparable with a mid-range smart device powered by Android. It supported Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, USB, Camera and many more to enhance the smart device experience for its user.

This device also included;

  • Open hardware design; Optimized for ease of customization and costs
  • Adding Braille keyboard and Braille display support to Android;
  • Developing customized bootloaders and writing custom device drivers
  • A refreshable Braille display and keypad, which offers an ideal solution for the blind users to both create and consume digital content with ease
  • Porting multiple versions of Android to the custom hardware

Impact of Our Work

b2g, is an Android powered smart device with inbuilt Braille support. This device lets the visually impaired and blind to use mobile applications that we take for granted like web browsers, Instant Messaging and Social Media apps.

It works with Android apps from the Google App store without the need to add explicit support for the braille interface. App developers for b2g does not need to be braille literate to develop applications for b2g.

b2g won the Silver Award for the overall competition and the Research & Development (R&D) category at the The National Best Quality ICT Awards (NBQSA) 2013 which was sponsored by the British Computer Society (BCS). b2g also competed at the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) awards 2013 held in Hong Kong and bagged a Merit Award.

The product is available for purchase on the National Braille Press website.

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