Teen uses Legos to build braille printer Shubham Banerjee works on his lego robotics braille printer at home (AP photos)
Teen uses Legos to build braille printer

In California's Silicon Valley, it's never too early to become an entrepreneur. Just ask 13-year-old Shubham Banerjee.

The eighth-grader has launched a company to develop low-cost machines to print braille, the tactile writing system for the visually impaired. 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 after he asked his parents a simple question: How do blind people read?

"Google it," they told him.

Shubham then did some online research and was shocked to learn that braille printers, also called embossers, cost at least $2,000 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 where he spent many late nights building it with a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit.

Shubham wants to develop a desktop braille printer that costs around $350 and weighs just a few pounds, compared with current models that can weigh more than 20 pounds. The machine could be used to print braille reading materials on paper, using raised dots instead of ink, from a personal computer or electronic device.

"My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people ... using my braille printer," said Shubham, who lives in Santa Clara, just minutes away from Intel headquarters.

After the "Braigo" a name that combines braille and Lego won numerous awards and enthusiastic support from the blind community, Banerjee started Braigo Labs last summer with an initial $35,000 investment from his dad.

"We, as parents, started to get involved more, thinking that he's on to something and this innovation process has to continue," said his father, Niloy Banerjee, an engineer who works for Intel.

Shubham used the money to build a more sophisticated version of his Lego-based printer using 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 so impressed with Shubham's printer that in November they invested an undisclosed sum in his startup. Intel officials believe he's the youngest entrepreneur to receive venture capital, the term used for 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, director of Inventor Platforms at Intel.

Braigo Labs is using the money to hire professional engineers and advisers to 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?

Assigned 62 times

  • Jm1999white
    1/30/2015 - 08:39 a.m.

    its easier to move the printer to different places around the house since its so light. also it shubham is right and they should be cheaper because its made out of Legos instead of the expensive stuff they make it out of .

  • KaelanB-Ver
    1/30/2015 - 09:16 a.m.

    I think it's cool that he is trying to help and he is getting into a big business but he needs to be careful so he doesn't mess something up in the business but I like the idea and wish I could think of something as cool and as helpful as that good job!

  • GarrttR-Ver
    1/30/2015 - 09:16 a.m.

    It is amazing what some teen entrepreneurs can do, especially for the blind. That is even better so the blind don't age to worry about spending so much money. This 13 year old is amazing because his product became a success. He just didn't come up with it for no reason, he asked Google about how blind people read. And because of his dad's $35,000 investment, the Google search, Legos Vx3 set, and Intels chip. He will be a kid with a dream to help people. He will make a lot of money off of this, because it's a need for the blind.

  • DawsonW-Ver
    1/30/2015 - 09:17 a.m.

    The advantage to having a light Braillewriter would be, transportation, you can bring it pleases without having to carry a twenty pound machine wherever you want to go.

  • NolanB-Ver
    1/30/2015 - 10:17 a.m.

    This kid is going to change the world with his brileant thinking. It's a great thing that someone is striding for blind peoples life's to be easier.

  • BradfordAmani-DiB
    1/30/2015 - 11:54 a.m.

    I think it is amazing how far we are as humans have come in technology. This idea for visually impaired people is a great development.

  • BRaymell-Cas
    1/30/2015 - 12:40 p.m.

    Well, you can bring braille printers any where you want. It it kind of like portal printer, and a good part is it is light hold it or put it into a small box, anything.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    1/30/2015 - 01:01 p.m.

    A lightweight braille printer would be great because then it can be mobile that way blind people can have it with them all the time. It will be more accessible if it costs less too. I think this a really good idea.

    1/30/2015 - 01:54 p.m.

    Its amazing what teenagers are doing these days. Our children of this generation just have so much potential. I just wish more people put them to use. What else can children do now a days? It amazes me what this eight grader has done with just Legos. Building a working computer. It inspires me to do something with my life.

  • JakobB-Ver
    1/30/2015 - 02:23 p.m.

    This boy is so nice for what he is doing to help the blind people be able to read and not using it for selfish reasons but instead using it to upgrade his invention..

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