A Device of Understanding: Engineers Create a Device for Full Communication with Deafblind People

Young engineers from NUST MISIS and the Karfidov Lab design bureau, commissioned by 4Blind, have developed the VibroBraille communicator, a device for communicating with people with simultaneous visual, hearing and speech impairments. A game console-like device translates Braille text into synthesized speech and vice versa.

VibroBraille is a small gadget with six buttons on the front panel and built-in tactile elements that transmit signals to the user at their fingertips like in the Braille system. The device works together with a mobile application, connected via Bluetooth. In the dictionary of meanings, implemented in the application, each Braille character corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, so words are converted into tactile signals and vice versa.

“The communicator is compact and easy to use. It can be used almost anywhere: at home, on the street, in public transport. The device matrix is simple — two columns and three rows. For example, the word ‘hello’ consists of six letters, the user types them with buttons, presses ‘enter’, and the device speaks it out to the speaker. To initiate communication, the person only needs to press a special button on the device — the user begins to feel a vibration, which means an invitation to dialogue. Then the interlocutor says what he wants to say, his speech is translated into text, and the text is converted into tactile signals according to the Braille principle. Thus, the user understands what the interlocutor said to him, ” says Aleksey Karfidov, head of the department of technological equipment engineering at NUST MISIS, co-founder and senior designer of Karfidov Lab.

According to the developers, anyone can build communication with a deafblind person, regardless of the previous experience, through the use of communication tools familiar to everyone: the deafblind person uses the Braille system and the sighted-hearing interlocutor uses oral speech. Of course, the communication process will be somewhat slower than under normal conditions. The developers also emphasize that there are no direct analogs of the device either in Russia or abroad.

The conceptual idea belongs to the Russian company 4Blind, which develops and creates innovative solutions for blind and deafblind communities. The electronics, design and prototype of the device have been developed at the Russian design bureau named Karfidov Lab, with the participation of postgraduate students from NUST MISIS. The result of cooperation with the University’s young engineers was the production of a fully functional prototype of the device.

The first experimental batch of the devices has been created in the workshops of Karfidov Lab, tests have already been carried out at the Deafblind support foundation “Con-nection” in 2021.

Now VibroBraille is being prepared for serial production. The retail price of the communicator is now 87,500 rubles (about 1200 USD). With mass industrial production, the cost will drop to 10,000 (about 140 USD) rubles.