California Teenager, 13, Helps Blind Community With Low-Cost Braille Printer Built From Lego Kit
In Silicon Valley, beginning a career as an entrepreneur at any age is encouraged and supported. Just ask thirteen-year-old Shubham Banerjee for his opinion on the matter. The California eighth-grader has founded a firm intending to develop low-cost equipment to print braille, which is a tactile writing method designed for people who are blind or visually challenged.
Recently, the multinational technology conglomerate Intel Corporation invested in his company, Braigo Labs. So, what exactly did Banerjee do differently when it caught the eye of a big company? Let’s find out!
How It All Started Out
Believe it or not, Shubham’s incredible invention started with a simple question. As a child, he always wondered how blind people are able to read. His parents, of course, didn’t want to give a simple one-word answer, so they told the curious Shubham to look it up online.
After doing a little research about the topic, it inspired Shudham to create a Braille printer using a Lego robotics kit for his school’s science fair project. Little did he know that was the start of something unique.
Learning About the Realities of Blindness
Among the 1.3 million blind people in the United States, only around 10 percent can read Braille, according to the National Federation of the Blind. In the 1950s, however, over half of the blind youngsters were able to learn to read the elevated ridges.
That comparison is quite intriguing, but it proves that there’s undoubtedly a need to address how blind children are more than eager to learn by reading books. Instead, they simply need the resources to quench their thirst for knowledge. For his part, Shubham knew that perhaps he could fill this gap.
Technology Plays a Huge Part
The development of new assistive technologies has contributed, at least partly, to bring about this shift. For example, voice-to-text software has brought about significant improvements in the quality of life for visually impaired people during the past ten years.
Anyone who’s not visually impaired can probably not fathom how these new updates change the game in everything. Now, anything is possible, and a solution isn’t far from reach. These are likely the reasons why Shubham decided to step into the picture and contribute in his own little way.
Not Everyone Has Braille
Interestingly, software programs are available that can read aloud material, and most consumer hardware devices, such as smartphones and tablets, come pre-loaded with software that can answer queries or deliver snippets of information.
Surprisingly few people who are legally blind or have limited vision even have access to Braille materials. It sounds unusual, but even some libraries do not have any books on Braille. This may be due to varying reasons, but we surmise it’s mainly due to how pricey these things are.
Looking for Some Inspiration
As Shubham Banerjee sought inspiration for an innovative engineering project in January 2014, he stumbled upon a trove of fascinating facts that were too good to ignore. Thus began his journey toward planning the perfect science fair entry!
Boys his age probably enjoy a random computer or football game, but Shubham had other plans in mind. He wasn’t one who wanted to sit around or do nothing; he knew that he was blessed with the intelligence to help those in need.
Money is Always an Issue
The young kid, who was only 12 years old at the time, realized that although many individuals have gadgets capable of reading aloud in some capacity, presuming that voice-to-text should replace Braille is an expensive concept many people just cannot afford.
As much as people would want to have these devices readily at hand, it’s just not possible. So those who have no capacity to purchase smartphones or braille books will always be left behind by others who already have one.
Printed Braille Books Cost a Lot
All these issues were apparent, but Shubham was taken aback to discover that Braille printers, nicknamed embossers, cost no less than two grand—an unrealistic expense for most blind readers worldwide, particularly in poorer nations. Even some public schools can only dream of having Braille printers.
So, it begs the question: how can the blind, less fortunate avail of these resources without breaking the bank? Would they ever have the opportunity, or would they be left out like many others suffering the same fate as them?
A Light Bulb Went Off
After several weeks of trial and error, Banerjee crafted a successful prototype with the help of a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit and just a few dollars’ worth of electrical components. His creation was capable of producing the distinctive six dots which comprise Braille’s symbolic language— it’s an impressive feat by all accounts!
The young man thought this would be the start of cost-effective solutions that would aid the blind. If his invention worked out as planned, then the opportunities would be endless.
A Boy Filled with Wonder
Shubham was passionate about technology, so much so that he was often up late into the night, working on his project with his mentor and father, Neil, who was an expert software engineer and loving father figure at his side. Together they turned their kitchen table into a hub of cutting-edge innovation.
Great things come from small beginnings, and at the rate, Shudham is going, it’s safe to say that he is on the right path. After all, we often don’t see a teenager burning the midnight oil without a video game on hand.
His Parents Were Open-Minded
Thanks to his encouraging parents’ support, Shubham could explore the realm of robotics with ease—spending just $350 on a Mindstorms kit. It wasn’t a rocket science solution, but it’s one step closer to making his vision a reality.
Indeed, giving Shubham access to an array of educational toys that he has been eager explore became the catalyst that sparked his mind to craft something no one ever thought was possible. The teen is genuinely one of the lucky few who’s blessed with never-ending support from his loved ones.
An Invention of a Lifetime
True enough, Shubham is disrupting the status quo with their new Braille printer—a light and affordable solution giving those who are visually impaired an opportunity to read the information in an accessible way.
This revolutionary machine will only cost a few pounds, weigh almost nothing, and allow users to print out reading material from any electronic device with raised dots instead of ink! If only he could find someone who would fund his passion project, then maybe Shudham’s goal would be achieved in a shorter span of time.
Time to Showcase the Project
At that point, his family knew this creation was too incredible to keep under wraps. As such, they took the next best step possible. Banerjee unveiled his revolutionary invention at the 2014 Synopsis Science Fair, a countywide event for students in Santa Clara County, California, and was rewarded with the highest accolade on offer:
The prestigious n+1 Prize from the Synopsis Outreach Foundation. It was an impressive achievement for someone so young, so it was only a matter of time before Shubham will get noticed his stroke of genius.
Getting the Top Prize
Braigo, a revolutionary invention by Shubham Banerjee, swept away the competition with its awe-inspiring ability to print, standing tall amongst engineering projects like radar rock mapping and electricity-generating shoes. His extraordinary vision earned him $500 in prize money!
Never in their wildest dreams did they think that a kid would have an idea that would possibly make a significant impact on society. While the amount he won wasn’t as enormous as expected, it was still impressive, considering it was the top winner.
Breaking Barriers with Braille
The then-thirteen-year-old Shubham Banerjee is revolutionizing the world of accessibility for those with vision impairments. Developing Braigo, a low-cost Braille printer that looks like any other modern device but produces raised bumps instead of flat text on paper, this Santa Clara freshman has made strides in increasing access to information and knowledge around the globe.
We can only hope that this is the beginning of a revolution. Some kids will definitely look up to him as a role model, so Shubham is off to a good start!
Getting Another Investor in Play
After his incredible invention, Braigo, a clever combination of Braille and Lego, garnered enthusiastic support from the blind community and awards aplenty, Shubham Banerjee got an even bigger show of confidence. His father, Neil—an Intel engineer—invested $35K to help launch Braigo Labs in the past few months.
Indeed, “something” was on here that needed to continue! That was all he needed to proceed with his plans. All the sleepless nights were finally paying off, and Shubham basked in the success of his labor.
Taking His Plans to the Next Level
It’s only been a few months since Shubham showed the world what he was capable of, and now he’s got another invention brewing up his sleeve. With the help of an Intel computer chip and a desktop printer, Shubham took his Lego-based printer one step further.
Introducing Braigo 2.0, a model that can transform electronic text into a tactilely readable braille before printing. Imagine all the possibilities if more funding was placed in Braigo. Why they could mass produce this device in a snap if they wanted to!
He's Got People Behind Him
With the promise of his creation, a young inventor secured venture capital to make it come alive. Intel Capital took note and provided Braigo with generous funding, giving rise to an engineering team that would continue developing this innovative prototype.
Finally, Shubham didn’t have to work alone in the process. With this new approach, more prototypes could be developed, and any software-related issues would be addressed immediately and more efficiently. Has anyone ever seen a group of professionals work alongside a teen like he’s been their colleague all this time? Shubham has!
It's Packed with Great Features
In 2014, Shubham Banerjee stepped up to the plate and wowed technologists at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco with his innovative prototype of Braigo v2.0, a project he had been working on since early 2013 using Intel’s Edison microprocessor.
This mini-wonder is barely larger than an SD card but packs its own WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities for incredible power. With the advent of modern technology, we’re confident more features will be added to Shubham’s wondrous creation. Now, that’s something we can all look forward to.
A Company with a Vision
At this point, we can all agree that Braigo Labs is on a mission to revolutionize access for the visually impaired. With funds they’ve raised, Braigo has tapped experienced engineers and advisors in order to make Shubham’s vision of creating accessible, affordable 3D-printed Braille printers achievable.
By the summertime of 2023, blind associations will have their hands (or at least fingers) on prototypes, with plans for them to hit markets not long after! This massive improvement will enable students to harness new technology and take in as much information as they can.
Others Are Joining His Cause
There’s no denying that Shubham is a young man with a promising future, and those who’ve seen his work agree that he will only do more extraordinary things from here. A guy named Henry Wedler, a blind doctoral chemistry student at UC Davis and Braigo Labs advisor, recognizes the impact of this incredible Braille printer.
Providing access to learning opportunities with limited resources around the world, it is revolutionizing literacy for people who are visually impaired. If Shubham can do this for the blind, then perhaps the deaf would benefit from other ideas too.
It Might Put Things to Normalcy
Lisamaria Martinez, the community services director at San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind, expresses enthusiasm over a new affordable printer that would revolutionize life for visually impaired readers. It could easily print out essential household documents like letters and shopping lists in Braille, allowing them to live more independent lives without extra support or assistance.
As someone who is also living with vision impairment, she appreciates young people using their ingenuity to make an impact on those often overlooked by society. Suffice it to say, Shubham changed lives for generations to come.
A Dream That Became a Reality
Technology can often be a distant dream for many in the blind community due to prohibitive costs, lack of state aid, and restricted job placements. For those who don’t meet specific criteria, Braille printer access is especially rare. That is, until now. With new low-cost options available on the market, these life-changing devices are becoming more accessible than ever before, revolutionizing independence within this remarkable group of people.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Shubham will soon unleash new ideas. It’ll be interesting to see what else he can offer!
He Made His Mom Proud
From a young age, Shubham has shown an incredible drive and ambition to be successful. Despite his youth hindering him from becoming the CEO of his own company, he forged ahead with a passion that amazed even his mother, Malini Banerjee. With her newfound pride for this 13-year-old’s initiative, she believes others should strive to reach beyond what they think is possible in life, as Shubham has done.
These days, teenagers are more concerned with their looks. So, it’s no wonder why it’s refreshing to see someone like Shubham defy norms.
The Pride of His Dad
Neil Banerjee, the father of the brilliant Braigo inventor Shubham, encourages his son to continue innovating with technology, not just because it can lead to amazing inventions like Braigo but also so that everyone has access without feeling burdened by the high cost.
We can only hope that there will be additional funding from the government or at least other private sectors so this opportunity would be available to a broader group of people. Only then would it finally achieve Shubham’s dreams of making an impact.
Patents are Coming Our Way
Like any proud parent, Neil Banerjee can’t help but share more updates about his son’s legendary work. The savvy director of Braigo Labs’ board and father to its founder Shubham recently announced they had patented four projects with more in the works. Taking pride in their innovative endeavors as a company, he also shared that both “Braigo” and “Braigo Labs” are registered trademarks.
This is only the beginning of something wonderful, and we get to sit in the front-row seat and watch Shubham’s brilliant mind unfold.
Getting Recognition from All Over
As expected, Shubham Banerjee is bringing the power of innovation to America’s heartland! He will be showcasing his Braigo printer at the Smithsonian Institution and US Patent & Trademark Office Innovation Festival—a celebration dedicated to American creativity, featuring inventions from independent minds, universities, companies, and government agencies alike.
Inventors from all over the world will be attending the event, so it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Shubham to interact with the best of the best in the field of Science.
Staying Grounded as Always
Despite having developed a buzzworthy invention, Shubham prefers to stay humble and understated. When his football teammates discovered that genius was among them, they had some good-natured fun at his expense, but other than that minor ribbing, he remained unaffected by the attention around him.
His classmates treat him just like any of their peers; none of this recognition has gone to Shubham’s head in the slightest! It would appear that Shubham’s got it all—talent, charm, and a humble heart.
Free Use for Anyone Interested
What Shubham has done so far is nothing short of impressive, but what’s even more remarkable is how this eighth grader is leading the charge in revolutionizing braille printing by developing a simple and low-cost solution.
In addition, his vision of open-sourcing his code has allowed other innovators to join him as he strives for lightweight, portable printers that anyone can easily use. If it were anyone else, they would have immediately thought of profit instead of putting it out there to help others who need it the most.
Advice for His Generation
At just 18 years old, Banerjee is already inspiring his peers to make a meaningful mark on the world around them. His advice? Think outside the box and come up with an original idea that can benefit everyone in society, something no one has done before!
He believes every young person should strive for greatness by creating solutions tailored specifically to today’s challenges. If each one of us had this mindset, then the world would have become a much better place to live in.