BrailleBox: Android Things Braille news display

Joe Birch has built a simple device that converts online news stories to Braille, inspired by his family’s predisposition to loss of eyesight. He has based his BrailleBox on Android Things, News API, and a Raspberry Pi 3.

Demonstation of Joe Birch's BrailleBox

The background

Braille is a symbol system for people with visual impairment which represents letters and numbers as raised points. Commercial devices that dynamically produce Braille are very expensive, so Joe decided to build a low-cost alternative that is simple to recreate.

Braille alphabet

Image by DIPF CC BY-SA 3.0

News API is a tool for fetching JSON metadata from over 70 online news sources. You can use it to integrate headlines or articles into websites and text-based applications.

The BrailleBox

To create the six nubs necessary to form Braille symbols, Joe topped solenoids with wooden balls. He then wired them up to GPIO pins of the Pi 3 via a breadboard.

One of the solenoids of Joe Birch's BrailleBox

One of the solenoids Joe built into the BrailleBox

Next, he took control of the solenoids using Android Things. He set up the BrailleBox software to start running on boot, and added a push button. When he presses the button, the program fetches a news story using News API, and the solenoids start moving.

Since Joe is an Android Engineer, looking through his write-up and code for BrailleBox might be useful for anyone interested in Android Things.

If you like this project, make sure you keep an eye on Joe’s Twitter, since he has plans to update the BrailleBox design. His next step is to move on from the prototyping stage and house all the hardware inside the box. Moreover, he is thinking about adding a potentiometer so that users can choose their preferred reading speed.


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Codebreath avatar

Hi Joe. I like it! I have been wanting to make something similar to this, but aimed at Whats App messenger. Do you plan to expand this beyond the news reader functionality?

Brian Murphy avatar

Hi Joe..
My wife and I are both sighted but serve as volunteers for The Alliance for Braille Literacy out of St. Louis, Missouri; me as their web master , she as a transcriber. This is a very neat project you have come up with. A question I have is how you will reduce the size of the cell in the next evolution so a blind reader will be able to sense the cell with their finger. Also controls for moving back and forth on the text line. Another thing you might consider is building the speed control potentiometer into a foot pedal. Best of luck with this project, can’t wait to see version II. Just had another thought; blind readers usually would like 3 cells – helps “reading” in context so to speak. So many potentials here for a fantastic project, and yes commercial units are very expensive at thousands of dollars.. any financial relief with a simpler yet functional equivalent would be most welcome! Once again, best of luck.

Tom avatar

It should be possible to devise some small levers so that the solenoids can ‘drive’ a smaller area. Might be worth looking into 3d printing something so the design can be shared.

Ramiro avatar

Hi Joe,
Congratulations on your project! What an amazing device. Well done! and all the best for your future work.

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