INTERACTIVE READ/WRITE SYSTEM FOR BLIND PERSONS

Imagine that you can only see with your hands. It is not difficult. Imagine also that you have many friends. That is not difficult either. You communicate with them through sounds, talking on the phone, through some typhlological device that converts text to audio - and even Braille, if your friends have made the effort to learn it; but, deep in your heart, you know you’re never going to be able to reach the level of socialization they have, by the mere fact that they can see with the eyes and not with the hands. And you think: it is quite unfair, the whole Internet world, whose development has been and will be unstoppable and unpredictable, has always been at the service of the eyes, not hands, which have been relegated to reading on paper .. . plus rumor has it that books as we know, well, their days are numbered. Bad business. So you decide it's time to raise your hands, not to surrender, but to put them in action:

Why someone cannot dig a little and create a device that simply allows me to read the contents of a screen, be it a computer, a tablet or an electronic book? Actually, it only takes a kind of OCR (Object Character Recognition) flat scanner to read the screen and then transfer contents to a processing unit that translates the characters on the screen to Braille characters, dynamically and in a refreshable manner ... easy, right? In addition, I also want to surf, not just read, that is, every time there is a link in the screen, I want to navigate there; how? As easily as an audible warning informing that the line I'm reading is a hyperlink... and so on and so on to infinity and beyond, as Buzz says!

In this way, I could have more friends on facebook (which are none, unfortunately), and even followers on twitter, and put my profile on LinkedIn or upload my resume to job boards. I would also comment on any news in the papers and, of course, buy the latest fashion and gadgets using e-commerce platforms.

Of course, building a Braille display to refresh the "dots" dynamically seems difficult, but not so much because it seems that all this stuff already exists, at least to read a line (1). There's even a guy who has invented a glove called the Panopticon with a sensor on the index finger that lets you read letter by letter, as in a book (2). So something there is a question of clearing the path.

But is not all about reading, I forgot that I also like writing. That's even easier, since such a device already exists, at least in evidence. They were testing it at Stanford since last summer: Braille keyboard for tablets (3). Look, a stone less in the way. Collaboration.

But how can we create a refreshable Braille display, containing all characters (except graphics, images, videos etc.)? Well, just using new materials, which -in part- have been tested in similar applications. It turns out that there are some materials so called SMA (Shape Memory Alloy), having the ability to change shape (length) when there is a change in temperature. And when back to normal temperature again, they return to its original shape. That would create a screen that may let appear Braille symbols as necessary ... These materials, which are an alloy of nickel and titanium (NiTi) are marketed under the name Nitinol and Flexinol (4). There is a rather famous robot in the world of the 'robot-addicts', called Stiquito (5), and is a funny insect that moves using this technology. Even Lego can make one. Apparently this is the abc to create artificial muscles or robotic muscles (6).
Even this screen, more related to eBooks, was recently presented by the ONCE (National Spanish Blind Organization) within the School 2.0 project. This product is based on the technology of electro active polymers (EAP).
Summarizing … anything could be done, with more or less effort. Another issue is the will and awareness of the community of programmers and "publishers' of web sites to design in a new concept of user friendly- handfriendly-. Step by step, or rather, hand in hand.

That's all for now. I know that product development involves a level of complexity much higher than a service development, but ... approximately 2.6% of world population could benefit. And those are many millions, some 37 or so.
And now, finally, a story (in Spanish):
The tale of the eyes and the hands

References used:
(1). Refreshable Braille keyboard. Read one line at a time
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refreshable_Braille_display

(2). The Panopticon, by Josh No
http://www.joshsin.com/archives/135

(3). Braille touch pad for tablets, created by Stanford students in summer 2011
http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-10/11/braille-touchscreen

(4). Flexinol and Nitol, sold in rolls
http://www.dynalloy.com/

(5). Stiquito in its simplest form. There are many videos related to this topic
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GYCR5QjdVk

(6). Artificial muscles in robotics
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zzFb8a5TY4&feature=related

(7). EAP, electro active polymer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroactive_polymers
Reader for the blind ONCE within the School Project 2.0
http://ounae.com/once-e-book-ciegos/
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