The Audrey Braille Display, and a Plan to Build It Faster

(PLEASE NOTE – The Patreon page mentioned here is deactivated until further notice)

If you could help someone, what would you do for them?

Almost everyone would talk about helping someone cross the street, or giving a cheery hello to brighten their day, or donating to a worthy cause.

I feel similarly. It’s why I started the Audrey Braille Machine in 2011. A device to turn digital text into Braille patterns that a blind person could feel with their fingers.

Being a programmer for most of my life, the software was never an issue. But hardware was. So I taught myself the Arduino open source hardware and electronics so I could ‘drive’ the project (you can read my articles here.) And I used that knowledge to build smaller projects to help the Blind (examples here, here and here.) Eventually, I learned enough to teach an Arduino course at the local Makerspace.

But despite all that, the Braille Display project moved along slowly. In one way, it was a blessing; I was able to evaluate different designs, so I didn’t go down a blind alley too soon, and eventually created my best design yet, a small embossed wheel (details here.) On the other hand, the blind were not benefiting from an unfinished project…

Then I came across Patreon.com and had an idea. Briefly, the site allows people to donate to a cause or project. Patrons pay, and you give them something for their contribution, usually monthly. It’s a great way to test an idea, to see if you can raise enough interest or not.

But unlike most of them, I’m not a painter or designer or writer giving people my creative work. So at first I wasn’t sure of the fit.

Then I realized – what I REALLY wanted were patrons to encourage me. Simply put, their donation confirms that someone else thinks this is a good idea. And thanking them for their support and confidence would in turn inspire me to work faster on the project.

So I did it – I opened a Patreon offer (currently inactive.) For $5 a month, you tell me if you think the Braille display will make the world a better place. In turn, I will give you progress reports and more each week, and anything else I can think of to keep you in the loop.

I also plan to make everything Open Source, so others can riff off the ideas and implement better and better versions – and ultimately, with the blind benefiting. If you’ve heard about Linux, then you know the power of many people focusing on an Open idea…

My goal is to get at least 100 people involved – and give back 50 hours of work per month on this project. While that ends up being less than a minimum wage (actually, far less, since I’ll likely spend most of it on equipment and parts), it was never about the money.

I want to help. And I think you do too, or you likely wouldn’t have gotten this far in my post. Make no mistake; your support will be fundamental in making this project happen, so join me on Patreon, and let’s make a difference.

(PLEASE NOTE – The Patreon page mentioned here is deactivated until further notice)

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One thought on “The Audrey Braille Display, and a Plan to Build It Faster

  1. I’m fortunate to have a refreshable Braille display and it has changed my life! I can now download text or Word files, put the file into my Braille display, and read them in correct Braille. I can pair my display to my iPhone or iPad and read an iBook I buy on the same day that the book is released. All of these innovations fulfill my childhood dream of never running out of Braille. I no longer have to wait two or three years hoping someone will emboss the book I want, knowing that less than five per cent of books will ever be embossed.

    I’m fortunate to have my display, but most of the people in the world will never be able to own one at current prices. A Braille display like mine costs about as much as a used car. Newer displays will sell for somewhere around five hundred dollars U.S. This price doesn’t work for many blind people in the developing world.

    With his open source ideas, Dave may be able to create a device that could bring ready access to Braille to very poor people in developing countries. What a wonderful fulfillment of dreams for a lot of people.

    Mary Ellen

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