A Braille story.
Braille-Fly Core Cell, previous designs based on stepper-motors.
Braille-Fly Core Cell, latest design based on SMA wires.
First cell prototype, now discontinued.
Braille-Fly is a mechatronic device that allows blind individuals to read real-time text through Braille characters, software-updatable, replacing static Braille signs in public spaces. It could change accessibility for the visually impaired community.
La tua ispirazione
Sometimes, at the bus stop, I meet a kind blind lady and her guide dog. Despite her independence, every day she faces challenges getting real-time information about bus schedules and cancellations. It made me wonder how many people just like her are struggling out there to navigate the world without access to vital information. Shockingly, over 35 million people worldwide live with blindness. This is why accessibility and innovation are more important than ever.
We are working on creating a Braille cell that contains a single character, enabling the creation of completely customizable and refreshable displays. Our most promising technology is based on a cam-based mechanism actuated by Shape Memory Alloy Wires. In its original design, the physical pins to display the characters are sited on the superior part of the device while the electrical pins, required to control it, are located on the inferior part. This separation enables Braille-Fly to be completely modular, improving not only their cost but also repairability.
Processo di progettazione
BrailleFly started as a seed of an idea among two engineering students of the University of Bologna. What began as a theorical micro-electromagnetic system - a mechanism to move the configuration of Braille pins using a click-pen-like design - soon grew into a full-blown project. Stefano and Iacopo never expected it to go beyond their Business Plan Laboratory course, but during Stefano's thesis work, the possibility of a functional and affordable mechatronic device to read Braille text became a reality. Three prototypes have been created thus far, with the latest version using shape memory alloys to make the device realizable. The team encountered challenges along the way, including a non-miniaturizable initial design and technological limitations with electric motors. However, they persevered and developed a third solution based on affordable shape memory wires that make the mechanisms easy to assemble and control. Today, Alessandro Buldini and Federico Colleoni work alongside Stefano and Iacopo to improve, respectively, the design and the control software of Braille-Fly, a project that has the potential to change the lives of millions of visually impaired individuals worldwide.
In che modo è differente?
Primarily, our technology has the potential to outdate current solutions from a cost perspective, being up to twenty times cheaper for the same features. But our vision goes beyond that. We want to offer an additional solution to the traditional private and personal devices, and bring this technology wherever it can be of help to visually impaired individuals, empowering them to navigate the world with greater autonomy (which, for many, also means dignity). From bus stops to train stations and airports, to restaurants making menus accessible to all, we want to make a difference for those who need it most.
Progetti per il futuro
Our next steps involve improving the device's design to simplify its miniaturization and studying which materials are best fit for ensuring high performance at a lower cost. We will also focus on studying the device's lifespan in order to offer a long-lasting product over the years. Moreover we want to understand how to make our technology as accessible as possible, not just a small niche of users who can already afford similar devices. Finally, while we are working on our project in our limited spare time, our long-term dream is to have the chance to help not only in the blindness area but also in a wider range of disabilities.
The engineering idea has been the core topic of Stefano's master thesis, which has obtained 6 points out of 5. Now BrailleFly members are following the "Unibo Startup" lectures after having been selected as one of the thirty most interesting startup projects for 2023 inside University of Bologna.