This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project is for the development of a full-page, portable, low cost, refreshable Braille display based on the state-of-the-art electroactive PVdF polymer technology. The full-page Braille display is a very useful device which will promote Braille literacy and increase education, job opportunities, and quality of life for the visually impaired. The current commercial displays are based on a 30 year old PZT Braille cell technology. Both the materials and their processing are expensive, making the price of such a display very high. In addition, intrinsic material properties limit these displays to only one or two lines of Braille characters. In this proposal, a novel strap actuator using PVdF polymers will be used to make Braille cells that will provide large displacement, supporting force, and fast response time. In addition, these miniature Braille cells will be scalable to full-page displays. Highly integrated microelectronic processing will be employed to enable low cost Braille displays. The focus of this effort will be to take the current prototype dot and scale it down to the required dimensions and evaluate it in terms of firmness, displacement and refresh rate.
The broader impact/commercial potential of this project includes a specially designed full page Braille display that can demonstrate both Braille characters and graphic information, which can help blind people read icons, drop-down menus, shapes, and curves with Braille labeling on a computer screen. This will greatly enhance the ability of blind people to operate computers and handle complicated tasks. Since the electroactive polymer Braille cell will be developed at a low cost; more blind people will have an opportunity to own a Braille display device. This includes blind children in their early stages of education. This will not only help them to understand the importance of learning Braille, but also provide them with a very effective way to study various Braille codes such as literary code, Math Nemeth code, computer code, etc, in the digital age. This will increase Braille literacy, which has become a growing issue among blind individuals over the past several decades. Braille literacy has been directly linked to factors such as completion of a high school education, employment, and economic situation. Also, the market for Braille displays and assistive technologies will increase, contributing to job and economic growth.
The primary objective of this research was to create a working proof-of-concept refreshable Braille dot that could be used in a full-page Braille display. The current Braille displays are based on a 30 year old PZT Braille cell technology that is both expensive and limited to only single or double line displays. This is a limitation of the materials themselves. In this proposal, we used state-of-the-art electroactive PVdF polymers, rather than PZT, to successfully demonstrate not just one, but two proof-of-concept cells that are scalable to full-page displays. Every single technical objective set forth in the proposal was accomplished, including modeling, designing, fabricating, assembling, characterizing, and prototyping parts for these Braille dots. The project was an overwhelming success, and has positioned the research to transition from the proof-of-concept phase into the prototype phase. While this technology is still a couple years from maturity, there is great optimism for the nearly 40 million blind individuals worldwide, of which less than 10% are literate. A full-page refreshable Braille display, enabled by these technologies, will enhance education, particularly in the STEM fields where tasks such as viewing mathematical figures and graphs on a single line display, or doing long division with only a single line, prove very challenging. A full-page display will also increase Braille literacy, which has become a growing issue among blind individuals over the past several decades. Braille literacy has been directly linked to factors such as completion of a high school education, employment, and economic situation. Also, the market for Braille displays and assistive technologies will increase, contributing to job and economic growth. Improved education, literacy, employment and independence for the blind and visually impaired will all lead to an overall higher quality of life.