When Surabhi Srivastava from Mumbai was judged the winner of the prestigious 2017 ASME Innovation Showcase competition, it was a reconfirmation of her belief that technology should improve the quality of life for the disadvantaged. BrailleMe, the award-winning product developed by her company, Innovision, makes it possible for the visually impaired to access any digital information instantaneously in their own tactile script.
Their product, BrailleMe, is the world’s first ever low-cost digital aid which enables the visually impaired to access digital content and devices in their own script in multiple languages. It is a digital Braille assistant aimed at digital accessibility for the 39 million visually impaired members of the global community.
The core content of BrailleMe is the ‘magnetic Braille actuator technology’, for which Innovision has a patent application pending. This breakthrough provides a huge price advantage over their competitors’ products. It sells for just $300 compared to competitors’ price of over $3,000. “The technological challenge attracted us the most, as affordability is embedded in the technology itself,” says Surabhi.
Their core aims for the product range from increasing the rate of literacy of the visually impaired community to creating ergonomic change in the workplace that can help increase employment opportunities for them—that is, “to create a social impact through an affordable product.” Innovision categorises the daily challenges faced by the blind in accessing information as: the lack of availability, accessibility, affordability and, finally, having it in audio format. BrailleMe surmounts all these challenges. It allows them to access any information in digital Braille without paying a fortune. It can provide e-books and also Braille access to MS Office and other software. More importantly, it allows them to access social media and social network apps in Braille. The product itself is “multi-lingual, portable, battery-powered, ergonomic and affordable,” says Innovision’s website.
Innovision’s team, led by Surabhi and her partner Shyam Shah, aims at positively impacting people’s lives with their work. They are both alumni of IIT Bombay. Surabhi manages the production department of the company as also business development while Shyam oversees technology and product development. Surabhi has an MTech degree in metallurgy and material sciences. Shyam is an MTech in energy sciences and engineering.
Innovision calls itself a product innovation company developing assistive technology solutions for the empowerment of the differently-abled, with a critical focus on affordability for users. It has been working on BrailleMe for the past two years, in an effort to reverse rising global illiteracy rates among the blind.
Surubhi tells us how getting hold of the necessary hardware to start the production process for BrailleMe itself highlighted how scant the work done in this segment was.
Another challenge, clearly, is outreach and implementation of social projects. Surabhi believes that NGOs and government organisations need to be involved in supporting and implementing such projects. Innovision has some experience in this area, having worked with a few government initiatives such as Accessible India (for empowerment of the public works department), Digital India (for digital inclusion and accessibility of untapped communities) and Skill India (for employing and training of the visually impaired in computer-based jobs).
She says, “We were lucky to get some support from NGOs and government organisations, but what about other hardware engineers in other parts of the country? Hopefully, both, guidance and the technical support, that a hardware company requires will become more available.”
BrailleMe’s big challenge will be to create awareness about electronic Braille and promote its adoption by NGOs, teachers, vocational trainers and other channels.
CN09, SINE (Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship),
IIT Bombay, Powai, Mumbai 400076