13 Yr Old Invents LEGO-based Braille Printer, Starts Company

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An eighth-grader in California has recently launched his own start-up in an effort to create low-cost machines that print Braille, the hands-on writing technique used by the visually impaired.

Tech giant Intel Corp. has invested in 13-year-old Shubham Banerjee’s company, Braigo Labs.

The idea came to Shubham after doing some online research in an effort to answer his questions about how blind people read.  During his research, Shubham came across some information that shocked him: Braille printers, sometimes referred to as embossers, carry a price tag of at least $2,000.  That price is far too expensive for most blind readers, especially those in developing countries.

The topic interested Shubham so much that he built his own Braille printer from a Lego robotics kit for a school science fair project last year.

“I just thought that price should not be there. I know that there is a simpler way to do this,” said Shubham, who demonstrated how his printer works at the kitchen table where he spent many late nights building it with a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit.

His hope is to develop a printer that costs around $350 and weighs only a few pounds.  Printers currently weigh over 20 pounds.  His machine would print Braille reading materials onto paper, raising the paper rather than using ink, from a computer or electronic device.

“My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people … using my Braille printer,” said Shubham, who lives in the Silicon Valley suburb of Santa Clara, just minutes away from Intel headquarters.

The visually impaired could use these printers to create letters, household labels, shopping lists and other reading materials for their personal use.

The “Braigo” – combining Braille with Lego – has won numerous awards and is finding great support from the blind community.  Its success allowed Shubham to create Braigo labs last summer using a $35,000 investment from his father.  The money was also used to create a better version of his printer using a desktop printer and a newly released Intel computer chip.  Braigo 2.0 can translate electronic text into Braille prior to printing.

“We as parents started to get involved more, thinking that he’s on to something and this innovation process has to continue,” said his father, Niloy Banerjee, an engineer who works for Intel.

The new model caught the attention of Intel executives, who invested an unknown amount of money into the company last November in exchange for a financial stake in the company.  Intel officials are calling Shabham the youngest entrepreneur to receive venture capital, writes Terence Chea for Hindustan Times.

“He’s solving a real problem, and he wants to go off and disrupt an existing industry. And that’s really what it’s all about,” said Edward Ross, director of Inventor Platforms at Intel.

The money will be used to hire professional engineers and advisers that will help create Braille printers based on Shabham’s ideas.

The company hopes to have a prototype ready to be tested by blind organizations this summer.  The plan is to have a Braille printer on the market later this year.

Because Shabham is still too young to be CEO for his company, his mother has accepted the role.