It started out simple enough. California eighth-grader Shubham Banerjee had a school science fair project, and he had asked his parents how blind people read. They told him to Google it.
That’s when things became, well, amazing.
Sure enough Shubham discovered braille, the tactile writing system used by the blind and the visually impaired. After some more research, he found out that embossers, which are Braille printers, cost at least $2,000. Obviously, this is very expensive, especially for those in developing countries. Feeling that this was unfair for those who could not afford it, he went into problem-solving mode. The result? Shubham successfully built a Braille printer with the resources he had available to him: a Lego robotics kit.
Needless to say, the printer transcended the science fair to win numerous awards and enthusiastic support from the blind community. With the help of his father’s $35,000 investment, Shubham started his own company called Braigo Labs last summer to develop low-cost machines to print Braille. The company is called Braigo Labs, for Braille + Lego, and even Intel Corporation has invested in his start-up.
Braigo is using the investment money to hire engineers and advisers to develop the Braille printers. Goals include getting a prototype to blind organizations by this summer to test out, and then to put it out on the market later in the year. Shubham and the company have been gaining nationwide attention and have been featured on USA Today, Huffington Post, CBS and other media outlets.
“I just thought that price should not be there. I know that there is a simpler way to do this,” Shubham, who spent many late nights at his family’s kitchen table building the printer with a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit, old the Hindustan Times.
In the video below, Shubham demos his Braille printer:
Shubham’s ideal cost for a desktop Braille printer is $350. He also wants the printer to weigh only a few pounds (compared to models currently on the market that weigh 20 pounds) and for the printer to use raised dots instead of ink for convenience purposes.
“My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people … using my Braille printer,” said Shubham. Of course, he often turns to his father, an engineer at Intel headquarters, for advice.
“We as parents started to get involved more, thinking that he’s on to something and this innovation process has to continue,” said his father. And with the intial investment his dad had made, Shubham was able to build a more sophisticated version of his Lego-based printer using an off-the-shelf desktop printer and a newly released Intel computer chip. The new model was deemed Braigo 2.0, and can translate electronic text into Braille before printing.
With the exponential progress Braigo is making, many Intel officials are saying he will be the youngest entrepreneur to receive venture capital.
Edward Ross, the director of Inventor Platforms at Intel said, “He’s solving a real problem, and he wants to go off and disrupt an existing industry. And that’s really what it’s all about.”
And that’s not the only praise he has been receiving.
Henry Wedler is a doctorate candidate at the University of California, Davis and is blind. Of Shubham’s Braille printer, Wedler – now a Braigo advisor – calls it “a great way for people around the world who really don’t have many resources at all to learn Braille and to use it practically.”
This means being able to print out letters, grocery lists, short reading materials, and labels for the house in Braille.
While his mother is the CEO of the company since Shubham is too young, for someone who thinks on such a grand, productive and intelligent level, Shubham definitely has a bright future ahead of him.