A braille printer normally costs at least $2,000, but 13-year-old Shubham Banerjee has figured out a way to make them for under $400 – and now, Intel is funding him to do it.
The San Jose, CA resident has developed a low-cost braille printer that can produce indented text on paper. He has even connected it to the Internet using a cheap, low powered chip from Intel, called Edison.
The printers are even programmed to print off the CNN headlines automatically every morning, he says.
With help from his parents, the Bay area teen has created his own company, Braigo Labs. It stands for ‘braille with Lego’, because the braille printer was originally prototyped with a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotic Lego kit, which his dad, Intel employee Neil Banerjee, bought for him.
The braille printer started off as a school science fair project, and Shubham, a Lego fan since he was a toddler, worked through seven different iterations before coming up with a working model.
Shubham worked at the kitchen table while his dad did took conference calls there while making the occasional suggestion for improvements, he recalls. the young engineer eventually published the building instructions online for the Lego-based robot, which was able to print a letter every 5-7 seconds.
Then, after people kept asking him whether he could buy it off the shelf, he decided to develop the prototype into a commercially-sold braille printer. Effectively, the teen entrepreneur used the Mindstorms kit as a prototyping platform, and then engineered a commercially viable unit after proving his concept.
“I became a member of Techshop in San Jose and learned AutoCad Inventor 2014, and started designing the hardware parts,” Shubham says.
“I needed to print 3D parts and worked with an independent contractor to help me get them and finalize the design. Since the Edison chip was a new development board, whenever I got stuck I would send an email to the technical team to help me unblock the solution.”
Shubham’s mother Malini Banerjee doubles as press officer for Braigo. She says that being around technology professionals socially helps children to develop their tech talents.
“Shubham has been immersed in technology at a very early age and living in Silicon Valley our social circle also consists of technologists working in startups to big companies,” she explains. “He gets involved in multiple different discussions on technology trends in social gatherings too.”
Shubham used the Python programming language to drive the Intel Edison chip to fire the right pins for the print head. The basic principles for Braigo 2.0 are the same, though.
Only the components have changed, to create a unit that can be manufactured in larger numbers, and at low cost. Edison is effectively a computer on a chip, originally designed for wearable computers.
The chip gave Shubham an Internet connection for his printer, and a way to drive electronic parts, without having to buy separate electronic components. Already thinking about production, he told Kids Tech News that the chip enabled him to keep his Bill of Materials low.
“The lessons from the Lego printer were further included into the design of the new prototype,” says Shubham. “Printers use an x-y-z motion, and that’s what I used.”
The only thing holding Shubham back were constraints around his age.
“My parents had to be involved, since as a minor just 12 years old at the time, there were some places where I could not go alone,” he says. The machining room at the Techshop was an example. “They had to chaperone me everywhere. and of course pay for everything!”
In November, Intel’s investment arm Intel Capital announced that it was going to fund Braigo Labs for an undisclosed amount, in the youngest founder investment that the company has ever done. The first time that Shubham heard about it was when he was showcasing his product on the stage at the Intel Developer Forum 2014.
What’s next for him? The patent on the 2.0 version of the braille printer is pending, and while Braigo hinted at a $350 price when the prototype was shown, the firm final pice is undisclosed. He’s working hard to put the final pieces in place.
“I will hire professional engineers, work with a design house, make a robust almost final version of the printer, and then give units to non-profits or blind organizations and blind students for field testing before launching it commercially,” he says.
“I am only 13 and I don’t know everything, so we will work as a team to take this forward,” he concludes. “Nothing in this world can be achieved if you want to do things all by yourself.”
He’s clearly a smart young man in more ways than one.