For years, people with disabilities have been desperately searching for cutting edge technology to assist them with communicating. 13-year-old Shubham Banerjee is on his way to making a substantial impact on the lives of the blind community — with a lightweight, low-cost Braille printer.
The eighth-grader is shaking up the industry by incorporating his passion for Legos with his advanced scientific skills. Upon researching how the visually-impaired read for a science fair project, Shubham decided to brainstorm a new invention using a Lego set called Mindstorms EV3. At the Banerjee kitchen table, Shubham developed a printer that translates reading material from an electronic device onto a document in Braille. He then advanced from converting a 3D printer into a newer version of his original model.
His invention would serve a vast populace: an estimated 285 million people around the world are afflicted with some type of vision impairment, according to the World Health Organization.
Two of the most notable flaws in current Braille printers on the market are their weight and cost: averaging at about twenty pounds, they cost an estimated $2,000. So rather than the cumbersome and expensive devices that are currently on the market, Shubham wanted to make his printer both affordable and portable.
“I just thought that price should not be there,” he explained. “I know that there is a simpler way to do this.”
What Shubham came up with has the San Francisco technology hub flocking to him to be a part of this potential breakthrough. The young entrepreneur’s start up, Braigo Labs (a hybrid of “Braille” and “Lego,” named for the original model’s incorporation of Legos), already obtained seed capital from various backers who think his invention has real potential — including an undisclosed sum from executives at Intel, where Shubham’s father works as an engineer.
“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,” Edward Ross, director of Inventor Platforms at Intel, told the Associated Press.
Braigo Labs is turning into a family venture, with 13-year-old Shubham as the face of the company. Since the teenager legally cannot sign documents, he has appointed his mother as the CEO, with his father heading the board. A typical day for the young entrepreneur includes balancing school, football practice and meetings with potential investors.
Braigo Labs is currently working on its third model, which Shubham plans to send to various blind institutions for feedback. In addition, the Royal National Institute of Blind People will be flying from Britain to test run the product.
The founder of Braigo Labs has beaten Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, by six years to gain venture backing. He used the money to build a team of engineers to develop an updated model.
There has been overwhelming support for this product from the blind community.
“This Braille printer is a great way for people around the world who really don’t have many resources at all to learn Braille and to use it practically,” said Henry Wedler, a blind chemistry doctorate student who has also become an advisor for Braigo labs.
Shubham is forgoing the potential payday his invention could bring him and rather producing a low-cost product so the vision-impaired community in developing countries can benefit from his innovation. He hopes to one day see his product become the standard for the blind.
“My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people … using my Braille printer,” he said.
“I’m really proud of Shubham. What he has thought, I think most adults should have thought about it,” Malini Banerjee, Shubam’s mother and CEO of Braigo Labs, said. “And coming out of my 13-year-old, I do feel very proud.”