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First-ever Braille smartphone could hit stores this year

Touch screen transforms images and text into touchable patterns, enabling users to interpret facial expressions, maps, and graphics.

During a video chat, a visually impaired user can touch the real-time image of a friend's face and follow that person's facial expressions.
Sumit Dagar

An interaction designer who makes sci-fi short films has spent the past three years developing what he says is the world's first Braille-enabled smartphone. He said that if testing goes well, the phones could hit stores by the end of this year.

Thanks in part to award money from Rolex, India-based designer Sumit Dagar has been collaborating with the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad to develop a prototype. The smartphone employs a haptic touch screen that elevates and depresses the content it receives, thereby transforming the data into touchable patterns.

Yes, this phone is essentially a shapeshifter.

Dagar demonstrated the phone's capabilities during a 2011 Ted Talk. (See video below.) He noted that visually impaired users would be able to touch the real-time image of a person on video chat and follow that person's facial expressions. He also showed how the technology would help users interpret maps, play games, and more.

The hardware comprises a sophisticated grid of tiny pins that move up and down to accommodate text and images. It uses shape-memory alloy technology to expand and/or contract to its original shape after use.

"Technology is giving everyone superpowers, but many blind people are not able to tap into these cool, new features, and the technology is making them even more disabled," Dagar said in a Rolex interview. "So I decided to do something that could reach out to this population."

No word yet on what the phone will cost, but I'm going to recommend that early adopters insure their phones.