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Award Detail

Awardee:POLYMER BRAILLE INC
Doing Business As Name:Polymer Braille Inc.
PD/PI:
  • Wallace S Pitts
  • (919) 515-4322
  • wspitts2@ncsu.edu
Award Date:04/03/2014
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 749,997
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 1,243,801
  • FY 2014=$749,997
  • FY 2015=$55,811
  • FY 2016=$437,993
Start Date:04/15/2014
End Date:01/31/2018
Transaction Type:Grant
Agency:NSF
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.041
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:SBIR Phase II: Full-Page Electronic Braille Display
Federal Award ID Number:1353625
DUNS ID:830880261
Program:SBIR Phase II
Program Officer:
  • Muralidharan Nair
  • (703) 292-7059
  • mnair@nsf.gov

Awardee Location

Street:840 Main Campus Dr
City:Raleigh
State:NC
ZIP:27606-5215
County:Raleigh
Country:US
Awardee Cong. District:04

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:North Carolina State University
Street:2410 Campus Shore Dr
City:Raleigh
State:NC
ZIP:27606-3570
County:Raleigh
Country:US
Cong. District:04

Abstract at Time of Award

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project plans to develop an affordable device that will allow the visually handicapped community to access digital information in a robust format comparable to a mobile tablet computer. Current embodiments of this technology use 40 year old technology that cannot scale beyond two lines of text, consume significant amounts of power, and are prohibitively expensive when using more than a single line. This Phase II project will focus on establishing a mechanical Braille cell module using the polymer-based single dot actuator successfully developed in the Phase I project as the foundation for a multiline display. The primary technical challenges to be addressed are achieving the mechanistic and electrical requirements while maintaining low production costs. Thus, this project has three primary objectives that build on the single-dot actuator: (a) construction and testing of 1- and 6-dot prototypes that meet technical requirements, (b) construction of an 8-dot Braille cell and demonstration electronics and software, and (c) assembly of a short line of Braille text to demonstrate the cells perform as expected when arrayed in the anticipated display format. Additionally, PBI has the access to technical facilities and knowledge to successfully perform the Phase II. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is that the visually handicapped community, 1.3-2 Million individuals, does not have access to an affordable device comparable to a modern a mobile tablet or computer display. This severely limits the ability of this community to access digital information and dramatically impacts literacy levels, STEM-related education, and employment. The currently available piezo-electric technology is prohibitively expensive and cannot display more than 2 lines at once. This makes it unsuitable for use with mathematical equations, images, and other larger-scale digital information. The affordable device developed using this Phase II funding will use a novel polymer technology to display several lines of Braille text at once. In addition to allowing the visually handicapped community to participate more fully in this digital age, the development of this device will change the way complex, multi-line information is disseminated. Braille literature is significantly larger than traditional. For example, the King James Bible weighs 64lbs, takes up 60 inches of shelf space 12 inches x 12 inches and costs $342. This technology is expected to impact multiple industries such as call centers, libraries, digital content providers, STEM, business, print media, and anywhere modern users benefit from digital content.


Project Outcomes Report

Disclaimer

This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

Project Outcomes Report:

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project successfully developed new Braille pixels that will enable building an affordable device that will allow the visually handicapped community to access digital information in a robust format comparable to a mobile tablet computer. The primary technical challenges that were successfully addressed are (1) achieving the mechanistic and (2) electrical requirements while maintaining low production costs. Thus, this project was built on three primary objectives that were built on the single-dot actuator from the Phase I research: (a) construction and testing of 1- and 6-dot prototypes that meet technical requirements, (b) construction of an 8-dot Braille cell and demonstration electronics and software, and (c) assembly of a short line of Braille text to demonstrate the cells perform as expected when arrayed in the anticipated display format. These three objectives were successfully addressed in the Phase II research.

The intellectual merit of this project is that new advanced microactuator technology was the direct results of this research. An actuator is a mechanical element that converts a stimulus, such as electric signal, into a mechanical motion; so, a microactuator is a very small actuator. These new unique microactuator technologies build pixels that are intended to be felt instead of seen; analogous to a the ubiquitous LCD display used in smartphones, computers, TVs, etc only in this case tactile in nature.  At first glance, it generally seems quite easy to build such a display; however, as shown by decades of companies and universities trying and failing to deliver a tactile display that has more than one line of characters that it is far from a simple task.  The key technological requirements to achieve this goal are for the actuator to: (a) provide large displacements (0.5 mm), (b) support large forces (over 30 grams of force), and (c) display quick response times (less than 100 ms) simultaneously within a space of a few millimeters (conforming to the Braille character specifications from the library of congress). One must also do this with taking into effect other items such as usability, power, and long term reliability. This combination was previously beyond the capability of all previously explored actuator technologies. In fact, there are no commercially available displays on the market today that satisfy these requirements. As of the writing of this report, PBI has been able to achieve such microactuators that meet or exceed all of these requirements from the research performed in the Phase I and Phase II projects.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is that the visually handicapped community, 1.3-2 Million individuals (in the US alone), does not have access to an affordable device comparable to a modern a mobile tablet or computer display. This severely limits the ability of this community to access digital information and dramatically impacts literacy levels, STEM-related education, and employment. The currently available piezo-electric technology is prohibitively expensive and cannot display more than 2 lines at once. This makes it unsuitable for use with mathematical equations, images, and other larger-scale digital information.  This has left a large technology disparity gap in the visually impaired community when compared to the significant advances in technology of sighted individuals in the last 40 years. The resulting new microactuator technologies that have been developed in this research allows a multiline electronic Braille display far surpassing the two lines embodiments at an affordable price. This new Braille display will not only provide a new platform to read digital Braille books, learn STEM related subjects, present spatial context of content, but also can help blind and visually impaired individuals operate computers and handle complicated tasks and display tactile images. This tool will help further address the diminishing literacy rate of the blind and visually impaired community with a robust tactile interface by allowing any electronic content source to displayed materials using the new actuators to display several lines of Braille text at once. In addition to allowing the visually handicapped community to participate more fully in this digital age, the further development of this device will change the way complex, multi-line information is disseminated. For example, the Braille version of the King James Bible weighs 64lbs, takes up 60 inches of shelf space 12 inches x 12 inches and costs $342. However, this could be one of millions of digital books now available to the visually impaired in the form factor of a tablet style device. This technology is expected to impact multiple industries such as call centers, libraries, digital content providers, STEM, business, print media, and anywhere modern users benefit from digital content.


Last Modified: 03/20/2018
Modified by: Wallace S Pitts

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