[tabi] Braille Displays Get New Life With Artificial Muscles

  • From: "Lynn Evans" <evans-lynn@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 4 Sep 2009 23:48:10 -0400

Got the info below from one of my mailing lists:

Braille Displays Get New Life With Artificial Muscles

Research with tiny artificial muscles may yield a full-page active Braille 
system that can refresh automatically and come to life right beneath your 

Yosi-Bar Cohen, a senior researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 
Pasadena, Calif, was inspired during a business trip to Washington, D.C., where
a convention for people with visual impairments was taking place.

Bar-Cohen came up with an idea to create a "living Braille," a digital, 
refreshable Braille device using electroactive polymers, also known as 
muscles. He wrote up a technology report and included information in a related 
book that he published. His writings inspired other scientists and engineers
to create active displays using this technology, and prototypes are now under 
development around the world.

"I hope that sometime in the future we will have Braille on an iPhone. It will 
be portable and able to project a picture of a neighborhood popping up in
front of you in the form of raised dots," said Bar-Cohen. "A digital Braille 
operated by artificial muscles could provide for rapid information exchange,
such as e-mail, text messaging and access to the web and other electronic 
databases or archives."

According to the World Health Organization, about 314 million people are 
visually impaired worldwide; 45 million of them are blind.

Recently, Bar-Cohen was contacted by the Center for Braille Innovation of the 
Boston-based National Braille Press to reach out to the Electroactive Polymer
community and take advantage of his role in this field. The National Braille 
Press is a non-profit Braille printing and publishing house that promotes
the literacy of blind children through Braille.

Current Braille Display Technologies

The challenge for creating an active Braille display is in packing many small 
dots into a tiny volume.

Unlike hardcopy Braille, a refreshable display requires the raising and 
lowering of a large number of densely packed dots that allow a person to quickly
read them. Currently, commercial active Braille devices are limited to a single 
line of characters. A full page of Braille typically has 25 lines of up
to 40 characters per line. Characters are represented by six or eight dots per 
cell, arranged in two columns. To produce a page of refreshable Braille
using electroactive polymers requires individually activating and controlling 
thousands of raiseable dots.

Developing New Braille Technologies

Some of the leading-edge work in Braille technology was developed at SRI in 
Menlo Park, Calif. Richard Heydt, a senior research engineer there who was 
in developing a prototype says, "The electroactive polymer technology seems to 
be a natural fit for Braille and tactile display applications."

The Braille display developed at SRI is based on activating a type of polymer 
consisting of a thin sheet of acrylic that deforms in response to voltage
applied across the film. The individual Braille dots are defined by a pattern 
on this film, and each dot is independently activated to produce the dot
combinations for Braille letters and numbers.

In currently available active refreshable Braille displays, each dot is a pin 
driven by a small motor or electromagnetic coil. In contrast, in the SRI display
the actuators are defined regions on a single sheet of film. Thus, while each 
dot is raised or lowered by its own applied voltage, there are no motors,
bulky actuators, or similar components. Since the system has far fewer discrete 
components for a Braille dot array, it would be potentially much lower
in cost.

"The contributions of the developers of electroactive materials to making a 
low-cost, active Braille display would significantly improve the life of many
people with visual impairments, while advancing the field to benefit other 
applications" said Bar-Cohen.

Looking for the 'Holy Braille'

The Boston-based National Braille Press has recently established a Center for 
Braille Innovation. They're looking for the "Holy Braille," a full-page 
Braille display, at a low cost.

"We feel that the exciting field of electroactive polymer technology has 
matured to the point where it can provide real solutions for Braille displays.
We welcome and encourage anyone who wants to take part in Braille innovation," 
said Noel H. Runyan, National Braille Press, Center for Braille Innovation

In the spring of 2010, Bar-Cohen is including a special session on tactile 
displays at an SPIE conference. SPIE is the international society for optics
and photonics. Tactile displays will be presented and possibly demonstrated at 
the conference. He hopes these baby steps may someday lead to a full-page
Braille system that will allow people to feel and "see" the universe beneath 
their fingers.

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.


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