The California eighth-grader has launched a company to develop low-cost machines to print Braille, the tactile writing system for the visually impaired. Tech giant Intel Corp recently invested in his startup, Braigo Labs. Shubham built a Braille printer with a Lego robotics kit as a school science fair project last year after he asked his parents a simple question: How do blind people read? "Google it," they told him.
Shubham then did some online research and was shocked to learn that Braille printers, also called embossers, cost at least $2,000 — too expensive for most blind readers, especially in developing countries. Shubham wants to develop a desktop Braille printer that costs around $350 and weighs just a few pounds, compared with current models that can weigh more than 20 pounds (nine kilograms). The machine could be used to print Braille reading materials on paper, using raised dots instead of ink, from a personal computer or electronic device.
"My end goal would probably be having most of the blind people ... using my Braille printer," said Shubham, who lives in the Silicon Valley suburb of Santa Clara, just minutes away from Intel headquarters. After the "Braigo" — a name that combines Braille and Lego — won numerous awards and enthusiastic support from the blind community.
An affordable printer would allow the visually impaired readers to print out letters, household labels, shopping lists and short reading materials on paper in Braille, said Lisamaria Martinez, community services director at the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind, a non-profit center that serves the visually impaired and prints Braille materials for public agencies. "I love the fact that a young person is thinking about a community that is often not thought about," said Martinez, who is visually impaired.
Shubham is too young to be CEO of his own company, so his mother has taken the job, though she admits she wasn't too supportive when he started the project. "I'm really proud of Shubham. What he has thought, I think most adults should have thought about it," Malini Banerjee said. "And coming out of my 13-year-old, I do feel very proud."