Over the past five years, Bristol Braille Technology has been developing the Canute, the world’s first multi-line Braille e-reader. It has been a long and difficult process, made possible only with the support of the blind community who have been intimately involved with the design and development process from the word go. It is thanks to the support and input of real-world Braille readers, from school students to retired people, that we are now able to move into our final user-testing period, and towards the launch of our first production model, the Canute 360, later in 2018.
The Canute 360 is a nine line, 360-cell standalone Braille e-reader. Thanks to the unique mechanism employed in the device (utilising a small Raspberry Pi computer and a mechanical display mechanism) the Canute will be radically more affordable than existing single line Braille displays. Although final pricing has yet to be confirmed, Canute 360 will be more affordable than any existing forty-cell single line display.
We are now entering our final testing period ahead of release later in 2018. In North America, we are partnering with APH, NFB and CNIB to test and evaluate Canute 360 units in a variety of settings, including schools, offices and summer camps for children with visual impairments.
The Canute is not intended to replace existing single line Braille displays, but rather to form part of a toolkit students with visual impairments can use to access information. It is not a Braille display: rather, it is a standalone reader. Files must be transferred to Canute to be displayed using a USB memory stick or SD card. Files can be converted using software such as Duxbury DBT™, or the free RoboBraille service to enable display on Canute.
For many visually impaired students attending non-specialist institutions, access to Braille literature is limited. Physical Braille editions are bulky and expensive, and for schools and colleges with few visually impaired students enrolled, it is often impossible to offer a comprehensive selection of titles. Canute 360addresses this problem: an entire Braille library can be stored on a single device.
Take STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for example. In the UK, only 8% of GCSE (high school final exam) STEM textbooks are currently published in Braille format.
This is one area where single line Braille displays and talking books can never fully replace Braille. Theoretical understanding in these subjects requires information to be rendered in context: math problems, or data tables, require information to be presented over a series of columns, not a single line of text. By presenting this information over it’s nine line display, Canute will allow Braille reading students to access a far wider range of materials.
Looking towards the future, we are already investigating further applications for Canutetechnology. We are especially excited to announce that following the CSUN 2018 conference we are working with several screen-reader developers (including some of the biggest names in the business) to explore the possibility of using Canute 360 to output screen reader data. While this presents a significant development challenge (existing screen-reader output is single line only, and so line and page breaks require careful consideration) we are excited about the possibilities of further development in this area.
If any readers are themselves technically minded, all our software is open source and available on GitHub, along with a Canute hardware emulator. We would invite any JAWS or NVDA scriptwriters to have a play with our development kits and keep us updated on their progress via firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on our pilot-testing programme in North America, please contact APH or NFB in the first instance. For Canadian readers, the CNIB is coordinating a pilot testing programme in Canada. For any other questions, or to register an interest in ordering Canute, please contact email@example.com
Editor's Note: This article was written for Paths to Technolgy by Liam Smyth, Bristol Braille Technology