Touch the screen to read the book

A 21 year-old student's portable tactile tablet that can store Braille books will touch the lives of millions of visually impaired people

Latino pop, Paulo Coelho and a proclivity for soccer, Manchester United style, are the indulgences of 21 year-old engineer Saurabh Sanyal. With the late Steve Jobs for a role model, Sanyal could easily pass off as your ordinary young adult. And yet, this mechanical engineering graduate from IIT Delhi, is about to transform the lives of the visually impaired.

The tactile screen is made up of several droplets of hydrogel which can
be raised or collapsed from the surface to form different shapes. It
does this at the prompt of a PC. It forms part of the Refreshable
Braille Display

Soon after school, Sanyal joined Khoj, an NGO that works with marginalised children, teaching them language, social and soft skills. However, it was only after he joined engineering school that his true potential for transforming lives was unleashed. Within IIT Delhi resides a team of mechanical engineers who make up the Assistech Group. Their primary objective is to work with the visually impaired and come up with new technologies to aid them.

A product developed by Saurabh Sanyal while he was doing his course in
mechanical engineering in IIT Delhi, in 2010. The RBD will help visually
impaired persons read books in Braille over a computer, without needing
to lug them around

In April 2010 Sanyal visited the National Association for the Blind in Delhi, where he first caught a glimpse of the gigantic tomes of Braille books. Their size and unwieldiness seemed anachronistic and inspired Sanyal to think of how all that knowledge could be rendered lighter and more portable "like an iPad".

Together with co-member of Assistech Praval Goel, and mentor Professor P V M Rao, (both engineers from IIT Delhi) Sanyal took a year to create the Refreshable Braille Display (RBD), a product that allows a visually impaired person to read books off a computer, using a specially designed tactile screen.

A tactile screen is a sheet whose surface texture changes. (For the techies: It is made up of several droplets of hydrogel which can be raised or collapsed from the surface to form different shapes. It does this at the prompt of a PC.)

Once the tactile screen is attached to the computer, and the RDB software is installed, any image, text, sentence or line typed into the software's interface will keep forming on the tactile screen. This way, entire books, maps, and even complicated shapes and structures can be entered into the interface which can then be read by the visually impaired person on the tactile screen.

What's more, RDB can work on any computer system. The possibilities of the device are infinite. In fact the idea itself is so simple that Sanyal is quite surprised that no one else thought of it before him. Once made, Sanyal began looking for a platform to unveil the product.

It was by pure coincidence that Samsung had tied in with IIT to conduct a Young Innovator's award the very same year -- the RDB was one of the last entries. Sanyal's prototype became a resounding success and went on to win the award for Best Product.

Plans are afoot to produce the RBD for the market next year -- talks are on with a Chennai-based company to develop it further. Sanyal will keep an eye on the progress of its development, even as he enrols for his Master's degree. Working temporarily as a Research Assistant at his alma mater, Sanyal says the key is to have compassion and to never give up. Even Steve Jobs couldn't have put it better.

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