Researchers at the University of Michigan have come up with the next over-hyped screen tech that has yet to see the outside of a research lab.
Wired, DigitalTrends Fox News, and other sites report that the researchers are working to build a new type of Braille display that could potentially replace the ruinously expensive and minimally functional Braille displays currently on the market.
“Imagine having a Kindle that isn’t a visual Kindle but instead has a tactile surface that can be read by a person who’s blind using Braille,” Sile O’Modhrain, a performing arts professor who herself is visually impaired, ponders in the following video.
What they are trying to develop is a microfluidic display, which is another way of saying that this will be a display that you touch rather than see.
Instead of having light shine out of the screen, in a microfluidic display fluid or air is pumped into and out of a chamber behind each little dot. Increase the fluid, and the dot pops up and can be felt. Remove it, and the dot sinks into the surface.
That’s a nifty idea, but you shouldn’t expect to see it any time soon. O’Modhrain told Fox News that she expects it could take 5 and 7 years before devices using pneumatically-powered displays become available. “We are currently developing the low-level components that will become the basis of this new display technology,” she explained, in an email to FoxNews.com. “You could think of this like developing the technique for displaying pixels using liquid crystals.”
And even when it is ready, don’t be surprised if it is as expensive as the $3,000 to $5,000 Braille displays it is replacing.
One key detail has been left out of
all most of the reports I read, and that is the limited market. It’s not just that there are somewhat less than two million legally blind people in the US, but also that hardly any of them read Braille.
Citing a report from the National Federation of the Blind, NBC reported in 2009 that fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million legally blind people in the United States read Braille, and just 10 percent of blind children are learning it.
To call that a small market is an understatement, and the limited demand will increase production costs and drive the price up.
And that is why most people in need will have to content themselves with the truly affordable solutions like the iPad, iPhone, and other consumer mobile electronics. They may be less than ideal for the task, but they are available and workable, and that counts for a lot.