The BecDot is an educational tool/toy that will be used to introduce braille at an early age to children that are visually impaired or who have been diagnosed with conditions that will eventually cause blindness or for children who are already blind. The device incorporates 4 braille cells that react to objects with pre-programmed NFC tags attached to them. It currently uses an Arduino Uno (what is an arduino) to drive the individual dots.
The biggest challenge with the design was to create a device that was very low cost. I studied some of the Braille readers on the market and found that these devices are very complex and as a result make them very expensive for the consumer. This is why not many devices are designed for children and most of the focus is on the older Braille reader, I mean who wants to give a 3 year old a $1000+ device. This is where after some trial and a lot of pain I came up with a design which could enable me to bring the device to market at a very low price point, enabling families, care givers, and educators the ability to afford the device. The innovation comes in the actuators that are lifting the individual braille cells and one evening I designed a new concept that is used in the device (more on the mechanism here Accessibility Through Technology). Once I got that figured out and got the first prototype cell working at some time around 2:00am on a Saturday morning, I immediately scaled it up to four cells which I thought was a good starting point for the age group I was targeting.
After this I incorporated an NFC reader (Adafruit PN532) into the device. The idea was that the reader would read a preprogrammed tag that a parent, caregiver or educator could place on a toy such as a letter block, a plastic dog, cow, goat, etc. When the child places the toy in the reader the device will display the braille equivalent of the object on the four cells. Of course lights and sounds would also come later in the development of the device.
So at this point all of that is working great and we have been cranking out prototypes the first one after about 24 straight hours of 3D printing was up and running and it was working well. I was showing it to family, friends and coworkers as well as teachers from the local schools for the blind and all I received was affirmation that this was a device that was needed. I also had my daughter Rebecca (hence the name BecDot) play with the device and she loved the lights and feeling the dots raise and lower. Of course being the first prototype I treasured it especially because of the time that went into making just the one. I was working on the design one day when I cringed to hear from the next room what could only be the BecDot crashing onto the floor. Luckily it mostly survived but many of the plastic bosses holding the thing together inside broke away.. Regardless, the device did not pass the first round of testing even if I was not really ready for it, but Becca sure was…
And that is where we are at. Working on additional prototypes and getting them in the hands of visually impaired children and educators so that they can continue to help us mold it into a perfect tool to help them teach and learn literacy.
Videos about The BecDot
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