Smartphones are no longer considered a luxury item. They’ve gone on to replace computers, tablets and many other visual devices that most people heavily rely on and while they grow more and more universally accessible, there haven’t been too many strides towards making them more friendly towards those with physical or visual impairments.
In a study conducted by the Fracktal team, most visually impaired individuals make use of feature phones like the Nokia 3300 simply because most traditional and popular smartphone brands have done away with physical keyboards in favour of touchscreens.
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O), out of the 253 million people living with mild to severe visual impairments, there are over 15 million individuals in India itself. Judging by these numbers you would expect a country like India to be a little more friendly toward the visually impaired but alas, accessibility is still arduous. The biggest concern India faces in terms of treating the visually impaired is the lack of affordable health care and of disabled friendly infrastructure and transportation facilities that should ideally be provided by the government. Despite all these difficulties, people who suffer from visual impairments try their best to lead normal lives, go to work, etc. There are very few gadgets in existence that can actually help these people out.
Current smartphone interface solutions for visually impaired individuals tend to involve voice recognition software, or large desktop braille keyboards. The main dilemma faced here is that these solutions pose cumbersome in a real world scenario. Voice recognition software also means that there is a certain lack of privacy as anybody around you can hear your conversation.
“Observing all these issues, the Fracktal team came up with the idea of Tipo, a 3D printed braille keypad drawing from the design of traditional braille computer keyboards.”
Tipo takes the form of a small 3D printed attachment which clips onto the back of almost any modern smartphone and connects to it via a USB-OTG cable. Letters, numbers, and characters in Braille, which are a sequence of dots, can be typed by pressing a combination of keys on Tipo. Users are then able to input any text that they wish to, with Tipo’s inbuilt circuitry translating the braille key presses into a standard text format that smartphone applications would be familiar with. While the unit can be used as a tactile interface, it can also serve as a Braille trainer, giving quick feedback as to what letter each combination of dots signifies.
“The intention behind this project was to create a tactile and easy interface in a small form factor that can be used in alliance with a smartphone and to create a more comfortable interface so that the visually challenged can use smartphones normally and make the software and hardware for the keypad open-source so that whoever needs it can access it and even help improve it.”
The project won accolades from both national and international 3D printing communities including winning a spot in Hackaday- The world’s largest collaborative hardware development community’s Hall of Fame and receiving 30,000 USD for the Best Product Design and 5th Place overall at the Hackaday SuperCon 2017.