At an age when the only activity that interests them is playing mindless video games, thirteen year old Indian origin boy, Shubham Banerjee, has created the first ever low cost braille printing machine out of Lego blocks. And that is not all- computer technology giant, Intel Corp, was so impressed with his invention, that its funding arm, Intel Capital, has funded an undisclosed amount in his start-up, Braigo Labs. This makes Shubham Banerjee the youngest entrepreneur ever to receive venture capital for his product. How’s that for an early start to the journey of tech entrepreneurship!
Shubham’s journey to celebrity status is a lesson in tenacity, persistence and will power. Living in the Silicon Valley suburb of Santa Clara, just blocks away from the Intel headquarters, Shubham had been interested in science, technology and robotics from a very young age. A chance look at a flyer asking for donations for the blind had him wondering about the problems that visually impaired people faced in reading and using computers. When he asked his parents about how the blind read, they simply asked him to Google the information.
And that is what he did. He went online to search up information about the reading tools available for the blind and was shocked and saddened by the fact that a Braille printer, called embosser, that could print material on paper in the braille script- cost a minimum of $2000. Way too expensive for blind people in developing countries to afford. A few more searches gave him the figures- according to the WHO, a probable 285 million people are visually impaired globally, out of which 90 per cent live in developing countries.
Shubham pondered whether there was a simpler way to translate text into braille script, one that could be way cheaper that what was available online. He set to work on building a low cost braille printer with the only thing he had in hand- a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit that his dad had bought for him.
Several weeks of late nights- most nights he would be up till 2 in the morning, working on his printer- and six unsuccessful attempts later, Shubham came up with a fully working prototype of a braille printer that could print out the dots sequence of the braille script. The total cost of the printer worked out to under $350- a fraction of the $2000 that braille printers cost.
Shubham named his creation ‘Braigo’- a mash-up of the words braille and Lego. The Braigo printer is a small, portable machine that looks a lot like any other printer- only it prints out strings of raised bumps instead of flat text on a page, i.e. the braille script.
Interestingly, many Silicon Valley start-ups had been trying to create a low cost braille printer since years, without much success.
The Braigo printer won Shubham the first prize in the county Science fair, besides numerous other awards, and gained him a lot of attention in the process, including Intel’s, which has invested an undisclosed sum in his product.
“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.
Shubham has founded a small company, Braigo Labs, and intends to add additional features to his invention, to make it even more useful.
Microsoft has also shown immense interest in his creation, lending him a team of engineers to help him develop the printer for mass production.
With Braigo, Shubham has proved that with an iron will, tenacity and a passion to create something meaningful for society, one can achieve the seemingly impossible!