How 12 year-old Shubham Banerjee used Lego to revolutionise printing for the blind

When 12 year-old Shubham Banerjee, an Indian-origin student living in California, US participated in the Intel Developer's Forum (IDF-2014), his invention made it possible for him to launch his startup with funding from Intel Capital. However, that was not his intention. Banerjee had spent sleepless nights working towards creating the world's cheapest, silent, IOT enabled and light weight Braille printer or embosser because he felt the visually challenged were taken `advantage of for a long time.' He called it Braigo-amalgamation of Braille and Lego. In a conversation, Shubham Banerjee spoke about his venture, its go-to market strategies and his plans for India.

Game turns serious: I liked LEGOS since I was two years old. In a mail that came to our house in December 2013, I noticed those posts that said, 'Help the blind people with donations.' I had no idea about Braille, so I asked my parents how blind people read and they said Google it ! Upon further research, I discovered that Braille printers cost about $2,000 or even more, and I felt that was unnecessarily expensive for someone already at a disadvantage. I took the LEGO model Mindstorms EV3 and devised a new kind of Braille printer that costs only $350. It took me three weeks and I broke and re-assembled seven or so different types of models before settling on one and programing it.

On his mentor: My dad, Niloy Banerjee was my guide whenever I got stuck. He works a lot, even from home after he comes back from office. For a couple of weeks, it was very long days for me. I started working on Braigo after I finished my homework and assignments and some days I was awake till 2 am. But it was all worth it.

The `WHOA' moment: What I did with Lego has me convinced that I'm onto something here. I want to bring a Braille printer to market that's at an affordable price point. To do that, I needed something small and powerful to drive the system. Intel Edison was a great fit for that. I'm so passionate about solving this problem that I spent my summer building it. I got membership at the Techshop in San Jose to learn design tools, worked with other individuals to get 3D printed mechanical parts and also machinist to design new braille heads and assembly.

On chip Edison: Intel's new chip Edisonwas the perfect choice for being connected to the cloud/internet and at the same time reduces the price by not using separate components/drivers.Its capabilities enabled me to do a whole set of use cases. For example, when we wake up in the morning we look at our smartphone or tablet to see the headline news. With Edison, we have set it up so that the CNN headlines are printed off automatically every morning.

Authentication:After Braigo version 1.0 came out, I received a lot of feedback from parents ofblind children and different blind organizations. They wanted a commercially available cheap braille printer. I then became very good friends with Henry (Hoby) Wedler, who is (blind) completing his PhD in computational chemistry at UC Davis. He is also acting as an advisor to Braigo Labs Inc. now. Who better than Wedler to validate Braigo!

Go-to Market Strategy: . "I've already put $35,000 of my own money into this," says dad Niloy. Volume production will help keep the price low. The undisclosed Intel funding will be used to further expand the company's R&D capabilities around the Braigo line of low-cost, portable braille printer/embosser devices and other products catering to the accessibility markets. Intel Capital's investment will help open up opportunities for me to work with professionals and eventually bring the product to more than 50 million blind people worldwide.

On India: I visit with family maybe every two to three years. The reported information about me visiting India was wrong. I was invited to IDF 2014 which was in San Francisco. My target market is also India where I am working with blind institutes and non-profits to make braille printers accessible in different languages. For instance, Hindi. Currently, I am working on the logistics to make it available in India.

Dreams for the future: I am not going to stop with the printer alone-more different designs are also being worked on for accessibility. I hope to learn tomorph the use of technology with physiology?.

Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.

Updated Date: Nov 10, 2014 16:05:11 IST