Meet Annie, the world’s first self-learning Braille device

A dialog that began at a breakfast desk between Aman Srivastava and three of his pals from BITS Pilani, Goa, quickly took the form of a analysis undertaking. It will definitely led to a prototype removed from the buddies’ realm to think about. That’s how Bengaluru-based Tinkerbell Labs developed “Annie,” the world’s first self-learning gadget for educating Braille to visually impaired children.

Though there was a world push in direction of inclusive schooling, Srivastava, 28, noticed a spot between academics not adequately educated and the shortage of the best instruments wanted to supply early schooling for the visually impaired. “While you train your baby ABC, the kid doesn’t study ABC simply due to your educating. It’s always proven the letters and alphabets all over the place, in each e-book, each signboard and that was fully lacking in case of educating kids with visible impairments,” he explains.

Annie, Annie Braille device, Annie aman Srivastava, electronic Braille device Polly, Tinkerbell Labs, startup india Srivastava says designing a {hardware} product remains to be a problem in India as a result of few digital element producers and the shortage of a {hardware} ecosystem in India. (Picture credit score: Thinkerbell Labs)

Srivastava says when he and his group began engaged on Annie in 2016, they discovered that the normal educating technique for visually impaired college students required one-to-one hand-holding, which may very well be in depth in nature. “We realised that we may construct one thing that amplifies the effectiveness of a particular educator by growing an answer designed to cater to not one however a number of college students on the identical time. What would that world seem like?” he advised in an interview.

Srivastava describes Annie as a literacy software, a Wi-Fi-enabled digital Braille gadget that helps a baby with low imaginative and prescient to learn, write and sort. It has been designed across the idea of audio-tactile, which makes studying extra interactive for a kid with visible impairments. The gadget teaches Braille—an embossed studying system which permits blind or visually impaired college students to learn utilizing their fingers—in English, Hindi or whichever native language they’re comfy in. The concept is to cowl all the fundamental points of language first and as soon as a baby turns into literate, they use that data of literacy to study different issues like vocabulary, sentences, comprehension, and so on.

Annie, Annie Braille device, Annie aman Srivastava, electronic Braille device Polly, Tinkerbell Labs, startup india The training technique to teach visually impaired college students remains to be previous, however a tool like Annie has the potential to alter that, claims Srivastava. (Picture credit score: Thinkerbell Labs)

The design of Annie has gone by a number of iterations, which Srivastava says is a standard follow in designing a product from the bottom up. Within the early variations of Annie developed in-house, the gadget had just one giant Braille cell with audio however later it was determined so as to add just a few commonplace cells. “The design has developed primarily based on useful necessities, which is that if you need to educate from courses 1 to eight, what all do you want hardware-wise?” Srivastava says.

Srivastava recollects the group constructed 50 to 60 prototypes throughout 5 to 6 variations earlier than commercially beginning deploying Annie in 2018. Early prototypes of Annie have been fully white and the vibe was precisely the identical as a washer from IFB. However through the design course of, Srivastava and the group wished Annie to transcend that white color. “We actually wished Annie to have a playful, vibrant, console-type design. We have been impressed by Xbox and Nintendo consoles of the previous and the design labored for Annie,” he provides. The truth is, Annie’s center portion, the place the typing module is, mimics a online game console. “Most assistive devices have been boring, however we wished to alter that with Annie,” says Srivastava.

Annie, Annie Braille device, Annie aman Srivastava, electronic Braille device Polly, Tinkerbell Labs, startup india The design of Annie has been impressed by Nintendo consoles of the previous. (Picture credit score: Thinkerbell Labs)

Srivastava sees Annie as a full-fledged laptop which may be up to date identical to a smartphone. The gadget controls the tactile show that kids can contact and really feel which then reveals phrases, alphabets and letters to them. There are completely different buttons for various duties, just like how a laptop computer works. Annie is a related gadget and may be remotely enabled—it’s potential to maintain monitor of scholars’ efficiency.

However Annie isn’t only a {hardware} gadget, clarifies Srivastava. The truth is, Annie has a {hardware} layer, a content material layer, and a software program layer to it. Srivastava and group labored with the UK’s Royal Nationwide Institute of Blind Individuals (RNIB) in addition to India’s Nationwide Institute for the Empowerment of Individuals with Visible Disabilities to develop the content material which is as per completely different grades of Braille that works on Annie. The content material, which consists of alphabet studying, listening to sentences and video games, is absolutely digitised and made interactive in nature. “We needed to design a brand new system the place if a baby goes improper, Annie can right them instantaneously in real-time after which the progress is recorded and that may be given to a trainer, dad or mum or faculty authority as and when required,” he says.

Annie, Annie Braille device, Annie aman Srivastava, electronic Braille device Polly, Tinkerbell Labs, startup india Thinkerbell Labs is a younger, Bengaluru-based startup, which focuses on assistive tech. (Picture credit score: Thinkerbell Labs)

The notion in direction of assistive tech is altering rapidly and extra folks, particularly traders, are rooting for accessible platforms and {hardware}. “Individuals [Investors] need to put money into {hardware}, they now need to take a look at tangible issues,” Srivastava says. “Once we initially began, everybody would ask to copy the idea of [Annie] on a cell phone app however the issues functionally required for a kid to study can’t be placed on a smartphone as a result of a telephone just isn’t tactile in nature.”

“In tech, inclusion has to come back to tech. It ought to be seen as yet one more buyer drawback and fixing results in worth creation and finally enterprise,” he says.

For Srivastava, the acceptance of Annie—bought as Polly within the US—has opened new alternatives for the younger startup within the west. TIME Journal lately named Polly among the best innovations in 2022. The {hardware} of Annie and Polly are the identical—the one distinction comes in relation to the software program and content material designed holding the US curricula in thoughts.

Annie, Annie Braille device, Annie aman Srivastava, electronic Braille device Polly, Tinkerbell Labs, startup india Srivastava says the thought behind Annie was to design an answer which may assist visually impaired kids study sooner. (Picture credit score: Thinkerbell Labs)

Since its launch, as many as 400 items of Annie are up and operating throughout faculties. Only recently, Srivastava’s firm signed a take care of the American Printing Home for the Blind, a non-profit organisation, the place Tinkerbell Labs will present 700 items of Annie yearly for 3 years. Somewhat than promoting the {hardware} individually, Srivastava makes cash by deploying Annie on the premise undertaking. “It’s precisely like supplying and establishing computer systems at school labs,” he says. “One Annie undertaking prices round 7.5 to 9 lakh relying on a college, what number of college students are there, what number of academics need to be educated and what number of units need to be deployed,” he provides.

Srivastava and his group are presently engaged on just a few new variations of Annie with extra content material. There are additionally plans to develop the regional language assist on Annie, together with Malayalam, Oriya, Gujarati, and Punjabi.

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