Bristol Braille Technology
introduces

Canute

Multiline refreshable Braille,
ebook reader, embosser, £440

Photograph of Canute Mk6 in action

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“It's something phenomenal. I'm already in love with this, and I'm not really a Braille person. I gave up Braille many years ago but this would definitely intrigue me... I'm completely blown away by this.”

Andre Louis

Bristol Braille Technology CIC has completed the first feature complete prototype of Canute. Canute will be the world's first multiline refreshable Braille ebook reader and will cost less than a Perkins Brailler.

It is intended that Canute will help reverse the decline in Braille literacy by bringing digital Braille within financial reach of the average user for the first time.

Why Canute?

Why Bristol Braille?

Why do we need to act now?

“Braille is on the verge of a global catastrophe ... My broad, conceptual proposal for saving Braille is to democratize it, to take Braille out of the hands of professionals and put it into the hands of the people ... Slash the cost of refreshable Braille.”

The Democratisation of Braille, Kevin Carey, Chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People

What still needs to be done?

Can you contribute?

Braille is literacy,
employment &
independence

Canute

Our newest refreshable Braille concept, begun in September of 2012, Canute will be the world's first multiline Braille ebook reader. It will be an entirely new class of device to bring Braille to people who would otherwise be unable to afford anything other than massive, bulky hard copy Braille. It will be 28 cells by 4–8 lines, cost £440, and is neither related nor technically similar to either the Quixote or, so far as we are aware, any other published design.

Photograph of Canute Mk6 on display

Mk6 rolled out to testers

On Monday the 18th of May Canute Mk6 was demonstrated to the Bristol Braillists blind advocacy group in the Pervasive Media Studio, who were able to choose between and read a dozen novels that had been preloaded onto the machine.

On Tuesday the 19th Canute Mk6 was demonstrated again to the Information Technologists company in Stationers' Hall. During the meeting BBT also demonstrated Canute's ability to double up as an embosser, which means one can emboss notes, shopping lists, recipes or letters directly off Canute's surface.

On both occasions the feedback was very positive and the device was deemed ready to be tested by users in their own homes. Over June and July BBT will therefore be working with the Bristol and Reading Braillists groups to ensure Canute units are tested by dozens of blind users.

Hardware and software

The Canute uses radically different internal mechanisms from the prohibitively expensive existing Braille displays, which allows it to have the unique format of 28 characters per line over 4 lines.

It uses off the shelf motors and plastic components from laser cutters. It runs off Open Sourced ebook software that can be freely changed so users can add their own functionality, adapt the user interface to their tastes.

There are already blind users and sighted engineers from around the world who have expressed an interest in adapting it to various different use cases and languages.

Help contribute to Canute's Open Sourced user interface and emulator here: http://github.com/Bristol-Braille/Canute-UI

“Printed books are plentiful and affordable, however, Braille books are presently scarce and expensive. A reliable, affordable, and universally useful electronic Braille book reader has eluded researchers and manufacturers for decades.”

P. Duran, D. Gipson & L. Jenkins, Braille for the New Millennium, Jan 2000

Photograph of Canute Mk6, showing engraved front with 'Canute' in print and Braille

About Bristol Braille

It is vital that the decline in Braille literacy amongst blind people over the past few decades is reversed. It is vital that blind students have equal access to digital resources.

By developing revolutionary new Braille technologies that will retail for hundreds rather than thousands of pounds, we at Bristol Braille Technology are attempting to transform the lives of blind people around the world by providing access to reading matter which the vast majority do not currently have.

Braille Literacy

The absence of affordable Braille seriously restricts opportunities to become literate, even damaging the value of literacy itself.

While education is becoming increasingly reliant on computers and technology, Braille technology has stagnated. Today only 4% of blind or visually impaired children in the UK are Braille literate, thereby limiting spelling, grammar, mathematics, the sciences and programming. Only 12% of maths and 8% of science GCSE textbooks in England are available in Braille or other accessible formats.

Our projects will help reverse the decline in blind literacy, making a huge difference to the lives of thousands of children who would otherwise be critically disadvantaged.

Our ultimate goal is to have refreshable Braille that is affordable for every blind child and adult, anywhere in the world, and to see a measurable improvement in literacy as a result.

The Company

Bristol Braille Technology is a not-for-profit organisation* dedicated to serving blind communities through invention and the provision of Braille devices.

The great majority of our work to date has been and continues to be done on a voluntary or part-voluntary basis. We operate out of the Bristol Hackspace, which is a part of the international ‘Maker Movement’ of co-operative workshops.

Refreshable Braille

Existing single line Braille displays are pretty good, but far too expensive for most people, costing in excess of £1,400. We aim to produce new classes of devices for as little as £100–440 .

Piezoelectric motors which individually drive each pin in the machines are the reason for the high prices. We will get around this by using entirely different technical solutions.

Our Approach

Our approach to the problem has always been the same.

There may, indeed we hope their will, at some point be a marvelous new material that can transform perfectly into Braille. But until that day comes, and until it becomes affordable, there has to be a ‘low-tech’ solution that does not require a million dollar lab to implement. This is not low-tech for the sake of it; avoiding huge research overheads reduces the final price for Braillists, increasing the number and geographical range of people who can benefit.

We therefore concentrate on two mechanical principles. Firstly, there must be be a disconnect between the pins themselves and the cost. In other words, the pins must be cheap and increasing their number should not significantly increase the cost of the whole unit. Secondly, we use off-the-shelf components whereever possible.**

We create Braille ebook readers that can be manufactured and repaired in ordinary workshops all around the world. The software we're using, OpenSCAD, is entirely textual and editable by Braillists, meaning they'll be able understand the CAD process that went into their machines, or even design their own.

By operating in such a manner we shall create a class of machines equivalent to the common bicycle; uncomplicated & universally repairable designs, ubiquitous within blind communities for decades to come.

Associated Organisations

We are proud to have worked with, been funded by or otherwise supported by the following organisations. Listing are in order of association with Bristol Braille since 2008.

Format: Name / date of association / nature of association

History of Bristol Braille

Our various projects have been on-going since early 2008. In the early years we investigated a number of different designs, including those based on continuous loops, ticker-tapes, dot-matrix printers and biometals.

Prior to the 6th of January 2011 this was a purely personal endeavour by Ed Rogers. Since then, and since our official formation as a Community Interest Company a month later, we have flourished into a small but active and committed team. You can read our news items from this period here.

In August 2011 we started development of the Quixote, based on the principle of slider-encoders and parallel actuation.

In September 2012 we looked into different design, which became the Canute one month later. This is now in parallel development as our all-new full-page Braille ebook reader, Canute.

Sometime in Autumn 2013 we began investigating a very different device. In January 2014 this became the separate Midas project.

Who we are

We operate as a collaborative Social Enterprise centred in Bristol, England. We are all either unpaid volunteers or on voluntary half-rates. Listings are in order of association with Bristol Braille since 2008.

Format: Name / background / date of first association / Role

Photo of Canute team
From left: Russell, Ed, Canute, Steph & Nic in the Hackspace

Canute Team

Midas Team

After a period of incubation by Bristol Braille, Babel Technology CIC is continuing to develop Midas as a separate company.

Board of Advisors

Management Team

Previous Contributers

Thanks

Particular thanks must go to the redoubtable NK and endlessly patient Keith. Without the encouragement and criticism of these two men Bristol Braille Technology would never have reached the stage it is at now, or, indeed, have got anywhere at all.

Testimonials

So far we have been contacted by over a hundred Braillists around the world, each of whom has expressed a strong desire to both buy and help test a be-reader from us. We are committed to creating devices reflecting their needs in form and function which they will be proud to own.

What follows is a small selection of quotes from these Braillists;

“Braille frees the mind and the spirit” — ‘TAS’, May, 2012

“I had the opportunity this year to teach four people who have recently lost their sight to read Braille ... Truly an amazing thing to watch these individuals who thought they'd never read again, reading, truly reading, not listening, not hearing a synthetic voice ... If there could be a Braille display which would serve their needs, it would be a miracle.”

‘Ann P.’, May 2012

“My biggest frustration is the cost of Braille displays. The only reason I have mine to use is because of my job at the university. Were I to leave this job, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get one of my own. As someone who trains others in the use of assistive technology, I can attest to the fact that many of the people I work with would love to have access to a Braille display, but cannot due to their cost. ”

‘Keith’, May 2012

“I cannot find the words to say how great the work is that you and your colleagues are doing to make a Braille unit that it is accessible to everyone ... It will make such a huge difference to so many, many people.”

— Gaela Benn, October 2012

“First off, as someone who has been blind all my life, let me say that I fully support your goal of cheap Braille. I hate to see Braille literacy plummeting ... anything to reverse that troubling trend is wonderful.”

— Alex Hall, January 2013

“I have been a Braille reader since 4 years of age. I am now 23. Unfortunately, I must say that I do a lot less Braille reading these days. This is because I do not have access to a working Braille display. And I find paper braille to be cumbersome to load around. Why read my paper Braille books when I have loads of them on my computer thanks to Bookshare?”

— ‘Rose’, March 2013

“ I now volunteer at a place where I answer phones, and I use my laptop muted, with braille, to take notes on calls ... At the same time I started coding ... I find using braille for both these tasks pretty invaluable. My main problem with the displays on the market now is their price. They are horribly expensive, and I certainly couldn't afford to replace mine.”

Chris Norman, May 2013

We demonstrated our first four line Canute prototype — the Mk5 — to the Bristol Braillists on the 8th of September 2014, and again with a slightly improved Mk5 to the National Council of the Blind of Ireland in January 2015. Most recently we made two Mk6s, which have been successfully by independent blind users over the course of two months.

At the moment we have the funds to continue development until September, but no further. Even a small donation helps get Canute to wider distribution by the end of 2015, when we plan to produce a batch of Mk7s.

If would like to help us throw open the world of Braille literacy to people who would otherwise have to remain permanently outside it, then we are very grateful for all donations received at Bristol Braille. All donations will go towards the Canute project unless specified otherwise; we can alterately take donations specifically for Midas or to sustain the Bristol Braillists usergroup.

A special thanks to Raymond Drewry and Chris Marshall, who have made large individual donations towards the Canute project, in the latter's case raised from two sponsored sailing trips around the British Isles.

Besides Paypal ( see below ), we can accept cheques made out to Bristol Braille Technology CIC. We are happy to send out literature further describing our projects, or to answer specific questions in private prior to a donation.

Donations to date

2015: £400, £50,000, £28,000 | 2014: £400, £15, £200, £5, £20, £10, £3,000, £2,250 | 2013: £5,000, £2,000, £4,000, £3,900 | 2012: £1,000 | 2011: £5,000

Midas

Midas logo: Blue stylised hand

Midas is a new product in development from Babel Technology CIC, in partnership with Bristol Braille Technology.

Aims

Quixote

The Quixote was a project to compete with current Braille displays. It used a parallel slider-encoder mechanism to set Braille pins in either six or eight dot format with a series of ridged sliders.

In late 2012 the concept described in the Youtube video ( with descriptive voiceover ) was taken over by a third party. We are not at liberty to discuss their progress, so the video should be assumed to be out of date in many of its particulars.

Meanwhile while we at Bristol Braille Technology continue to see how we can take the basic idea of the slider-encoder and apply it to less conventional displays, we have moved on from active development of Quixote in order to prioritise Canute.

There is a discussion of the video on our forums.

Photo of draft chassis
An early version of the Quixote chassis, next to a standard keyboard.

Contact Us

Join us on the forums to ask questions, make suggestions, or propose and discuss concepts. Alternately you can reach us by post, pigeon, tweet, telegram, telephone, dead letter drop or e-mail.

Be involved

We welcome expressions of interest from testers, potential customers, well-wishers and those interested in joining the development process. If you live in the Westcountry, are able travel to Bristol, or are associated with a Hackspace then we would be doubly interested.

We are currently looking for a variety of individuals who would be interested in testing our prototypes; most particularly Braillists of course, but also teachers and parents of would-be Braillists. Please do get in touch if this is could be you.

Addendum

Further reading

We recommend the following as authoritative sources of information;

Webmaster's Thanks and Legalese

We are indebted to Ingrid Dijkers for donating the forum's background image, and to Kroc Camen for creating the excellent Open Source NoNonsense Forum.

All materials associated with Bristol Braille Technology Ltd., the Quixote, Canute, Midas and other projects are property of Bristol Braille Technology CIC.

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