Teen uses Legos to build braille printer
It's never too early to create your own business. Just ask 13-year-old Shubham Banerjee.
The eighth-grader from California's Silicon Valley has launched a company. He wants to develop low-cost machines to print braille. That is the writing system for the visually impaired.With braille, the readers read by touch. They feel raised spots on the paper. Tech giant Intel Corp. recently invested in his startup, Braigo Labs.
Shubham built a braille printer with a Lego robotics kit as a school science fair project last year. He had gone to his parents with a simple question. How do blind people read?
"Google it," they told him.
Shubham then did some online research. He was shocked to learn that braille printers, also called embossers, cost at least $2,000. That is too expensive for most blind readers, especially in developing countries.
"I just thought that price should not be there. I know that there is a simpler way to do this," said Shubham, who demonstrated how his printer works at the kitchen table. That's where he spent many late nights building it. He used a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit.
Shubham wants to develop a cheaper desktop braille printer. He hopes it would cost around $350 and weigh just a few pounds. That's compared with current models that can weigh more than 20 pounds. The machine could be used to print braille reading materials on paper. It uses raised dots instead of ink.
"My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people using my braille printer," said Shubham. He lives in Santa Clara. Thats not far from Intel headquarters.
The "Braigo" name combines braille and Lego. The device won numerous awards and enthusiastic support from the blind community. So Banerjee started Braigo Labs last summer. He used an initial $35,000 investment from his dad.
The boy's father is an engineer who works for Intel.
Shubham invested the money to build a more sophisticated version of his Lego-based printer. He used an off-the-shelf desktop printer and a newly released Intel computer chip. The new model, Braigo 2.0, can translate electronic text into braille before printing.
Intel executives were impressed. In November they invested an undisclosed sum in Shubham's startup. Intel officials believe he's the youngest business person to receive venture capital. That's money invested in exchange for a financial stake in the company.
"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. He is director of Inventor Platforms at Intel.
Braigo Labs is using the money to hire professional engineers and advisers. They will help design and build braille printers based on Shubham's ideas.
Critical thinking challenge: Shubham thinks braille printers should cost less. He also wants them to weigh less. What is one advantage of a light-weight braille printer?