A team of North Carolina State University researchers are one step closer to creating a workable, affordable full-screen Braille computer display that would allow the blind to scan Web pages in much the same way that sighted people do.

The team, composed of textile, electrical, and computer engineers, had previously introduced a design that could translate both words and images into tactile displays. They wanted to test different materials for use in the actuators, which move the pins that create the Braille dots, to ensure that the raised dots would support the weight of readers' fingers and enable them to scroll through the material quickly.

Textile engineer Tushar Ghosh, PhD, developed an actuator based on silicone tubes, and found that this material resulted in lighter-weight, less-expensive devices that still performed as expected.

"Conventional refreshable Braille displays usually incorporate ceramics, or hard materials, in order to do the work of moving the pins up and down to create letters," says Ghosh. "But they are heavy, difficult to work with and expensive. Electroactive polymer-based silicone tubes are lightweight, flexible, can be processed easily and are inexpensive to manufacture."

"The result is a device that brings us closer to durable, lightweight, and affordable full-screen refreshable Braille displays," Ghosh says.

The research, which was funded by the United States Department of Education, appears in Sensors and Actuators A.

North Carolina State University