My Braille Toolbox Part 4: What’s Next?

Well, we’ve reached the end of my small Braille toolbox (see Parts One, Two, and Three of this series, if you haven’t already), but the fun isn’t over! I still anticipate needing a few other Braille gadgets, and the inventions and innovations that are popping up everywhere in the Braille world make the future look very exciting.

What’s Next for Me?

 The next item down my Braille wishlist is an embosser—basically the Braille version of a regular printer.

A product photo of the Juliet 120 embosser, from the front.

This connects to a computer and embosses any text file in hard-copy Braille. It cuts down the time involved in making Braille, since you can type and edit on the computer with a QWERTY keyboard, make multiple copies, etc. Since my work involves a lot of comparing texts side-by-side, being able to print them out instead of switching back and forth on a Braille display will be a huge time-saver.

There are a couple of variables to consider when choosing a Braille embosser. Some only emboss on one side of the paper; others emboss both sides, staggering the lines of dots so they don’t interfere with one another. Some only do Braille text, while others specialize in tactile graphics, and some do both.

These machines tend to be expensive—from $2000 to about $7000 for personal embossers (industrial embossers can run $50,000 or more), so knowing what you want is critical.I’m very interested in trying to use tactile graphics to represent cuneiform texts, so that I can still read them in the original sign system, rather than relying on transliteration. I also anticipate a high volume of embossing, so double-sided would be very nice.

My current dream machine is the Juliet 120, from Humanware. It quickly embosses double-sided Braille and comes with tactile graphics software. Do you have a Braille embosser you love and think I should consider? Tell me about it in the comments!

What is the Future of Braille Tech?

A product photo of the new BLITAB Braille tablet.

Like everything in tech right now, there’s a lot of innovation happening in accessibility. For Braille displays, it looks like devices are going to get better, more diverse, and much cheaper in coming years. 

Humanware has created a Braille display/tablet hybrid, the BrailleNote Touch, which has a Braille display and traditional keyboard, as well as a touch screen interface that runs on Android.

A number of companies now produce multiline Braille displays, including Canute from Bristol Braille Technologies and the TACTIS100 from Tactisplay Corp.

These two are primarily for desktop use, but the race is on to produce the first Braille tablet/ebook—a standalone, full-page Braille display that is light and durable enough to be truly portable.

The first one to market will probably be BLITAB. This tablet is being developed by an international team in Austria, and it’s being intentionally designed for a worldwide user base, so it should handle multiple languages easily. The pins are raised and lowered by smart materials instead of mechanical actuators, which increases its durability and decreases its complexity and weight. It looks like BLITAB is now available for preorder, and will ship later this year!

Another company working on Braille tablets is Dot, which is already getting quite a bit of good press for their Braille smartwatch, the Dot Watch, which displays not only the time, but text messages and alerts from your phone. Once the Dot Watch ships (starting April 1), they will shift their R&D energy to developing two Braille tablets, the Dot Mini and the Dot Tab. 

There are rumors of other technologies in development, too, like rotary Braille displays that have the cells set on the edge of a rotating disc. This way, you could read continuously without even having to move your finger. 

I’m glad I chose to invest in a mature technology this time, because most of the next-generation Braille tech will need a few years to iron the kinks out, but I’m very excited about the amount of innovation and improvement that is happening.

4 thoughts on “My Braille Toolbox Part 4: What’s Next?

  1. This four parter has been incredibly helpful to me. I have retinitis pigmentosa and have a functioning level of sight remaining, but I have recently started learning more about what type of resources exist for the visually impaired to maintain an independent, successful and fulfilled life.

    Presently, I work in a corporate environment and want to do everything I can to adapt so to remain employed and employable despite my progressive decline in sight (I don’t like using the word ‘vision’ because I will never lose my vision, so to speak haha).

    Anyhow, I have received a lot of insight and information through your blog and wanted to say thank you for sharing your experience with blindness, both the success and the struggles, as well as your work in your area of study (it is truly fascinating as I only pursued an undergraduate in psychology and biology then went into journalism and now public relations).

    I look forward to reading your future posts! Onward bound!

    1. Hi, Adrian, and welcome!
      I’m glad you found the site helpful. I think you’re on the right track, being proactive. A lot of people with RP are hoping desperately for a cure right now, but I don’t think it’s wise to rely on that. If there is a cure, that’s great, but I’ve realized I have to live my life and plan my future like that’s never going to happen. It’s the only way to keep moving forward. Braille is KEY to remaining employable—the NFB reports that 70% of all working age blind people are unemployed, but only 10% of people who know Braille are unemployed! So being proactive and having open communication with your employer is key.
      Good luck, and I look forward to hearing more from you!

  2. Hi Eric. This is Ed from BBT, who are designing the Canute. I should point out that we’re not currently selling the Canute. Its under development, just like the Blitab and the Dot Watch. Hopefully we’ll be going to market within a year (even end of this year, if the stars align) with a 14x10x2″ stand alone e-reader for around £6–700.

    If you’re interested in the Canute then we are developing it in open co-operation with a community called the Braillists (http://braillists.org/). You can join up to their newsletter to get more on the Canute and other Braille projects they’re involved with. There is also a forum (http://braillists.org/forum/) where people share their thoughts on new Braille innovations, including the Dot Watch, the Canute and the Blitab.

    Cheers

    Ed

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