It was estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that "there are about 314 million people who are visually impaired with 45 million of them are blind". Only 26% of working-age blind people are employed in the US and the high unemployment rate due to vision diseases leads to an annual production loss of about $8.0 billion US dollars. Among the 26% employed working-age blind people in the US, nearly 90% are braille readers. However, the braille literate rate in children has decreased from over 50% in 40 years ago to ~12% now in the US. Among the various causes, the high-cost and poor- reliability of the commercial braille display are discouraging factors for the children to learn an use braille. In this SBIR Phase I project, Strategic Polymer Sciences, Inc. (SPS) proposes to develop low-cost robust full-page braille display and graphic display using its patented electroactive polymer (EAP) actuator technologies. The success of the commercialization project will be built upon three innovation technologies: EAP actuators with balanced strain and force response matching braille specifications, novel braille design in which the extensional EAP actuator serves as the braille pin to enable the full- page display, and a scalable EAP actuator manufacturing process for cost reduction and actuator quality consistency. The EAP compositions and actuator devices were invented at Penn State University (Zhang et al. Science 280:2101;313:334;321:821;&Nature 419:284) and SPS has obtained exclusive license of these technologies. The success of this project will benefit millions of visually impaired people with affordable braille devices and more opportunities.
The commercialization of advanced low-cost electroactive polymer (EAP)-based actuators can enable the practical application of refreshable full-page braille display and graphic display with significantly reduced device cost and maintenance cost and improved reliability. The success of this project will benefit millions of visually impaired people with affordable braille devices and more opportunities.