Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
ATU360-04-20-18 – Canute 360 from Bristol Braille Technology with Ed Rogers, Managing Director, Bristol Braille | bristolbraille.co.uk
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ED ROGERS: Hi, this is Ed Rogers. I’m the managing director of Bristol Braille Technology, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 360 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on April 20, 2018.
Today we are going to start with a little snippet of an interview with Brian Norton, our director of assistive technology. He’s talking about an upcoming training on website accessibility for developers. It’s going to be on May 9, and he’ll have more details. Also my mate interview today is with Ed Rogers, who was a managing director at Bristol braille. They have a new technology for episode 360 of Assistive Technology Update called the Canute 360, which is, as he describes it, kind of like a braille kindle. It’s fascinating and interesting stuff, and I’m excited for the conversation today.
We hope will check out our website at EasterSealsTech.com, sent us a note on Twitter@INDATA Project, or call our listener line. We love to hear from you. The number is 317-721-7124.
WADE WINGLER: Love this show? Take a minute, click some stars, give us a review wherever you get your podcast. The more you talk about us, the more people find us. Plus we appreciate it. Thank you.
Accessibility Webinar [1:42]
WADE WINGLER: Next week, I’m going to have a mini interview with Brian Norton, our director of assistive technology, about an upcoming accessibility training for web developers. Here is a quick excerpt.
Brian, what’s a quick rundown?
BRIAN NORTON: That training is on May 9 — that’s a Wednesday — from 11 AM to 4 PM Eastern Standard Time. Please go to our website. It’s EasterSealsTech.com/A11Y to register for that training. There is a click here to register link. We do need to take down some information and make sure you guys get the Zoom meeting ID to be able to attend that day. That’s how you do that.
WADE WINGLER: Next week, we will have full details on the training. We just wanted to use today as a save the date so that you can get registered or at least check out the mission at EasterSealsTech.com/A11Y.
Interview with Ed Rogers [2:39]
WADE WINGLER: You can’t be in the world of assistive technology or access technology for people who are blind or visually impaired and even awake right now and not have heard about something called Canute 360 that really promises to help with the problem of declining braille literacy. So I had my staff here talking about this device. They bumped into it at a conference recently and said Wade, you have to find out more about this. We were so excited when Ed Rogers, who was the managing director of Bristol Braille Technology, agreed to come on the show and talk with us a little bit.
Joining us from the UK via Skype, and Rogers, welcome to the show.
ED ROGERS: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
WADE WINGLER: We are so excited that you are here. I want to hear but Canute. Are going to call it Canute or Canute 360?
ED ROGERS: It’s just Canute. It is a good coincidence on your 360th show we have the Canute 360.
WADE WINGLER: Absolutely, episode 360. Before we talk about the braille device, tell me a little bit about you and yourself and how you became interested in reversible braille technology.
ED ROGERS: I wasn’t really in the field, or I wasn’t a braille reader. I have learned since. I did find braille a very fascinating medium. I especially found it fascinating how little development had gone into creating a great variety of digital devices for braille. Braille, digitally speaking, is still conveyed in a very similar way that it was decades ago, which is a single line of braille and you have a little actuator under every pin, six or eight pins per cell. It costs a small fortune. I found a fascinating and a technical challenge to see if I could come up with something that would be a little more affordable. Having started on this, I met with lots of people who explained to me that the uses of braille and how, if something could be come up with that would be radically more affordable, or in the case of what we ended up developing, have radically more braille on its, then this would open up opportunities for all sorts of people over the world.
WADE WINGLER: In my background, I think we have an episode a few years ago called the quest for the holy braille. I know that this is a topic that people who are braille readers in the blindness and visual impairment community are keenly interested in. Talk to me a little bit about the idea for the Canute itself. What about the name? Tell me about the name Canute.
ED ROGERS: Canute was a king of Sweden but also king of England. He’s most famous colloquially speaking for an old story where he tried to hold back the tide and told he was so omnipotent that he could command the tide not to come in. We would like to give our products bad names.
WADE WINGLER: That’s great. Talk to me a little bit about the problem with braille literacy and what the Canute promises to do to help.
ED ROGERS: Braille itself is more or less exact in its uses and how it can be implemented, like print is foresighted people. It has the same benefits, can be used with the same literature, and yet, although we would never let print go into any form of decline, that’s what’s happened to braille. There are alternative technologies. You can use text-to-speech, and that can simulate many of the advantages of print or braille. But no one would say that it is good news, my child came back from school today, and it turns out that they are not going to be bothered to be taught to read because now the computer can read it for them. No sighted child whatever have that. Yet that does happen with many blind children. And you can’t blame the schools for this necessarily because braille is really expensive, and it’s bulky as well. You have paper braille, which for any volume in print would fit in your back volume would take about 10 volumes and Philip an entire book shelf in braille. Of course, if you wanted to emboss it, you have to use something which costs several thousand dollars and make it terrible noise like someone doing road work.
Or you can go for digital braille, in which case you could maybe 20 cells if you are on a budget or you could go all out and get a single line of 40 cells that’s about a fiftieth of what you get for a laptop monitor. That would cost you at least $3000. It’s just very limited.
We felt like one of the main reasons that braille use has been declining is that, regardless of how much it is taught, regardless of how much it is promoted, there is no real practical ways of using it after you’ve been taught it, not for many people. We tried to come up with a device, which we call Canute, which would be firstly far more affordable per cell. The Canute — we haven’t settled on a final retail price, but it is under $2000. That would be for the 360 cells, hence the name. That’s 40 cells per line over nine lines, which is a third of a full braille page or is nine times more than you get on the average display.
The advantage you get from it being multiline, not just that it can fit more braille on it, is that it can show a great variety of content then you can reasonably show on a single line. You wouldn’t look through a table one line at a time. It makes very little sense. Braille music or braille of mathematics makes even less sense because, if you wanted to see how multipart harmony work together and you only seem 100 at a time, that doesn’t make a great deal of sense. If you’re trying to follow whether that tens, hundreds, thousands and a problem that is set out in multiple lines as they should be, that doesn’t make much sense on a single line either. We hope with the Canute that we opened up digital braille to whole sets of uses which, until now, had to be on paper, yet many people couldn’t have used the paper anyway for practical reasons.
WADE WINGLER: I have all kinds of questions and ideas going off in my head. You are describing something that really is different. Let me ask a technical question about the cells. In the past, I’ve been exposed to Piezo electric actuators under braille cells, which is where the cost tends to come from. Without giving away trade secrets, you must be doing something different.
ED ROGERS: Yes. We are doing something different, and we are not going to do something that will replace Piezo electric’s. The Piezo electric cells are very fast and work very well for what they do, which is single-line displays. We’ve created a new form of actuation, a new technology, to drive the pins up and down. Without going into too much detail, essentially eases somewhere in the region of 100 motors which are off-the-shelf motors you can buy from things like CD drives and so on. It uses those existing motors to drive 360 cells. You really reduce the number of actuators, and that’s where the cost comes in. It does create a different class of device. The Canute is not something which refreshes instantaneously. The final version will take around half a second to refresh a line, and then it refers to the second line and the third line in the fourth line. This isn’t something that you would have popping up and refreshing all the time as you are editing. It’s for reviewing or reading.
WADE WINGLER: Clearly we are talking about something different and unique. Let’s talk a little bit about the technical specs. Talk to me about the platform and some practical things like storage capacity, battery life, those sorts of things.
ED ROGERS: The device itself, if you held it in your hand, is about 14 inches left to right, about seven front to back. That’s the size of a hardback print book and about an inch and a half thick. It’s a bit smaller than a braille volume. It weighs around six pounds, so it’s not light, but it is something you can put in your rucksack. It fits in a normal laptop case. It has the actual display element right in the middle, so that’s 40 cells by nine lines. The lines are spaced slightly wider than normal. It makes it easier for people to read and is also just part of the technology, that’s just the way it is.
The button layout for this, you have three thumb buttons on the front: a home button, previous button, and next bun. This is simply for moving around in the most basic form. You have selection buttons on the left-hand side which are for selecting different books or going to different menu items, that sort of thing. It’s very simple. On the left-hand side, there is USB input support. That’s for reading stuff off of a USB stick. There is also an SD card, which is where the library is kept. That’s where you keep most of your files. You could put them on the USB stick if you preferred, but it’s mostly for use by the SD card.
To get a file onto the Canute, you have existing BRF or PES — I’ll gloss over that because no one in America uses those. There’s BRF format, Braille Ready File, and anything you have off your existing braille libraries are anything that comes out of Duxbury can be exported into FRF. Those you stick on the SD card and it automatically works on the Canute. It doesn’t automatically transcribe files from Word files into braille. There is no technical limitation. We’ve just decided for our very first version, because we are a small company and are going to focus on high quality BRF files which people already have. Then we will look later at adding transcription in certain people needed for certain things.
The device is a desktop device. When it is first released, this is going to be something which is powered off the mains. It’s not a technical limitation. It can be run off battery, but because we are trying to get this to market as quickly as possible so people can start using it, we don’t want to wait for better certification and all that stuff. There may be a battery coming along as an add-on, but it is primarily a mains device.
WADE WINGLER: Tile by storage capacity? You mentioned SD. I guess you are only tied to the limitation of your SD card, right?
ED ROGERS: Yes. If you tried to pull up an SD card with BRF files, you would find it quite difficult to navigate yourself around them. There are many.
WADE WINGLER: I’ve seen the device described as the Kindle of braille. Is that a fair analogy?
ED ROGERS: I think so. It works very much like a standard Kindle book reader in the sense that you turn it on, it takes you back to whichever book you are reading before. You can go to the library and choose a flat list of book files and read through that. That really is the beginning and end of its functionality. This is designed to be a really simple device. It’s a book focused device. In fact when it comes to the comparison with the Kindle, we are quite pleased not to say that we are going to be working with Amazon to add Canute support to their screen reader so that you can plug it into a Kindle and get your Kindle books showing up on the Canute. That’s not our primary functionality, but we have got that collaboration and process.
WADE WINGLER: That’s great. I’m starting to understand more about the device. This isn’t a traditional reversible braille display that you are going to use to read the web off of your computer. In fact, it doesn’t even connect to a computer at all for getting content? Is it excessively a standalone device?
ED ROGERS: Is not exclusively. Our primary focus is on this as a standalone device, but it has a USB-B port; that’s the large printer style port, which you can use to plug into a computer or another device like a Kindle, even a phone in theory. That can then be controlled as a display. But before we start talking about it being controlled as a display and showing braille as a display, we need to work with a screen reader manufacturer to make sure they know how to support multi-line braille. We don’t just want to have a very long 360 cell line that is broken up over nine lines. That would be of little purpose. We want to be able to do things like supporting tables properly. That’s the biggest, most exciting thing, or how we format things so that you can see things on a computer that were previously not making sense in braille. We are working with Google and will be working with Amazon and hopefully Microsoft and several others. Initially, our focus is on standalone support.
WADE WINGLER: I appreciate the measured, careful approach to your taking. You are really thinking through does very well, which is why I think this is something different. It’s not just a bigger braille display. You really are taking your time in our sorting out through things to do it right.
My next question was going to be what kind of content goes on it? But now we’re talking about BRF and PES. In the future, what it also be possible for graphics or audio or those kinds of things? I know we have now and later, but do you think other kinds of content as possible in the future?
ED ROGERS: It runs a full operating system inside. It runs Linux. For those who are interested in it, the actual user interface, the software that controls the Canute, has been open sourced and is available on a GitHub. Just search for Bristol Braille and for Canute UI. You can start playing around with it yourself and add support for audio very simply activating something like [Inaudible] on the Canute. Once again, coming back to what you are saying about being cautious, we don’t want to release this with features that are just cobbled on. We want to focus on the features that we have been working for six years, and then we can carefully add features when we are confident with them. There is no limits to what the Canute can show when it comes to audio or supporting other formats like Word or PDF. It just needs to be done right and is very easy to do those things wrong. One of the reasons we want to do them right is because the way that you can get the cost of braille devices down, which is very tough, even when you have a new technology like ours, you need to be very careful that you are not going to end up with huge support costs. We are trying to make a simple device that people can learn primarily from reading the manual that is on it, the braille manual that comes with it, without having to be walked through it individually. Otherwise the cost of the device would have to go up.
WADE WINGLER: I think that’s very wise. I appreciate the approach you are taking. I’m not a braille reader myself, but I know that one of the questions that my friends who do read braille always ask is, is it crisp? How does it feel? What are people saying about the braille experience in a tactile way?
ED ROGERS: I don’t know how many of your listeners will have had the chance to try an Orbit Reader 20. The braille on that is hard, which is the first time someone has released a commercial unit that doesn’t have the sort of soft, squishy feel that piezoelectric’s have. The Canute is the same. In fact, the braille on the Canute is hard enough that you can put a sheet of people over the top of it, and with an ink roller, or even with your thumb got you can emboss braille into that paper. It’s not going to be putting index braille out of business anytime soon. But you can do a quick copy.
It’s a solid braille like signage braille. That gives us the advantage when it comes to people learning. It’s a matter of preference for an existing braille reader whether they want it soft or hard couple for someone who was learning, or — and we have had users who previously had to stop reading braille because they have diabetes or something like that which makes them loose sensitivity. The Canute is easier to read. As someone who is primarily a sighted reader of braille and very slow at touch reading, I find it a lot easier to read off the Canute personally.
As a comes to the smoothness of it, we’ve been working a lot on that. In the latest model, the Mark 13 — previously we had a rather rough finish to the braille, and that’s basically been because we had to 3-D print them. But now we’ve managed to smooth the services and are getting some very good feedback on that.
WADE WINGLER: When we were describing the braille display earlier, you talked about the speed of the display and the fact that it refreshes one line after another. Can you elaborate on that just a little bit?
ED ROGERS: I’ll give you two different examples so you can understand how the actual technology works. If you’re reading a page, and you get to the end of the page and press the next button with your thumb, immediately what happens is the first line, line one, you will hear a whirring noise, and it will click up and line one will have changed. You run your hand up to start reading line one. By the time you’ve done that, line two has done the same, a little whir, it’s disappeared, it’s come back up, and it’s changed. And line at three, line 4, line 5. If you are very fast reader, you can race to give up with it. That’s the example of how you read a book.
If you want to skim through a book, for example you read line one and realize it is the wrong page, I’m just trying to go through a few more, you can hold down the button to go forward, and it would keep refreshing the first line until you get to the page that you think you read. It’s interruptible. It doesn’t need to refresh the entire page. For example, if you want to navigate to a page number — say I want to go to page 48, then you go into the menu items that control that, and it will say go to page X out of 200. You then type in that code using the selection buns. That single line will refresh. It doesn’t refresh the entire page. It only takes half a second refresh that line.
WADE WINGLER: Talk to me a little bit about cost and availability. I think you hinted before about cost, but people are going to want to know, okay, what and where and how much will it take for me to get my hands on it Canute?
ED ROGERS: We’ve just been to CSUN. We went there mostly to meet with distribution partners. We are very pleased to announce that we will be distributing with the American Printing House with the National Federation of the Blind with the CNIB in Canada.
We are really having to negotiate with those guys now. It’s exactly how we do this distribution. Once we’ve done all our trials, it should be released this year. It should be released through those distributors, maybe more. We are very interested in distributing as widely as possible, but those will be the three that have invested in the pilot program.
The price, we are looking somewhere — we can’t define it exactly yet, but we are looking at wholesale price of around £1000, which is under $2000 retail once you’ve taken everything into account. Depending on the price of currencies and which markup people need to give, that may go up or down a little bit.
WADE WINGLER: Before we wrap up here, if you were to describe a day in the life with Canute for either a student or leisure reader, what do you mentioned that might be like?
ED ROGERS: I would imagine the Canute would be sitting on your desk. Let’s say you’re using this as a device for reading course materials. That it would be sitting at your desk. It would be loaded with course materials that you had from your college or school, or maybe you’ve transcribed them yourself through something like a Duxbury or braille blaster, the new transcriber from APH. When you want to refer to a table or something which has structured content where flicking through using voiceover or a single line, twenty-cell display wouldn’t be adequate, and you want to see how does this relate to this, then you would look at that on the Canute, refer to it and go back to your work. Frankly, at the end of the day, you might want to take it home and read off it because not everyone has an entire room that they can fill with paper braille.
That’s the basic use. Firstly, referring to very structured content where you really just can’t get that without multi line braille. Secondly, just a pleasure of being able to read books with a device that is more affordable and is not the size of a room in terms of keeping your entire library.
WADE WINGLER: I know there are people who are listening to the show right now wanted to learn more and stay in contact with you and follow the Canute story. What would you recommend in terms of contact information or website for people who want to reach out to you or follow along as things develop?
ED ROGERS: Our website is BristolBraille.co.uk. There is a sign up to our email newsletter. You can also email us directly. If you’d like to follow along, that’s the best way of doing it. You can also get involved on a forum called the Braillists Foundation. We share news with members of the Braillists perhaps before anyone else. Also, as I mentioned, if you are interested in being a part of the pilot or testing, we’ve got a big demand for prototypes. We would still be interested in talking to you. It’s worth keeping an eye out on the APH, NFB, and CNIB websites for news about their own distributions. If you are a distributor yourself, then get in contact with us.
WADE WINGLER: Ed Rogers is the managing director for Bristol Braille Technology and has been talking with us today about Canute, Canute 360, on episode 360. Thank you so much for joining us.
ED ROGERS: Thank you very much.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find other shows like this, plus much more, at AccessibilityChannel.com. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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