Development of a MEMS/based Braille display system as an affordable solution for blind people unable to access information via computer.
By packaging an existing technology, electrostatically actuated MEMS microvalves, that has been around since the 1980s in a new, more compact way, Orbital Research Inc. expects to lower the price of a Braille display from today's $70/per/cell cost to somewhere around $5 to $10 per cell.
A cell is the equivalent of one character, letter or number. At the same time, Orbitalexpects to dramatically improve the reliability, usability and functionality of the devices.
At $5,000/ to $7,000 each, most displays are well out of reach of the average blind person. Even less functional Braille PDAs, which show five to 10 words at a time, run between $3,500 and $5,000 and are useless for surfing the Internet or adding numbers on a spreadsheet.
Existing displays depend on little electric relays pushing little plastic pins against an elastic membrane to form the Braille character. What Orbital has done is replace the piezoelectric actuators with pneumatic MEMS microvalves that inflate bladders, or balloons, of air to form the points of the Braille characters.
This gives Orbital's devices some distinct advantages over today's displays. They can work at any angle, in contrast to piezo displays, which make use of gravity to drop the pins back into place; they are more power efficient, and, because up to 16 microvalves can be packed into a space the size of a microchip, more rows and columns can be put in one display. The next goal is getting 24 valves into this same space.
For further information and to see the article in full, visit the site www.snalltimes.com and access the article of 9 aPRIL 2002 By Allen Bernard