• Developed in a "fab lab" in Rennes, the Braillerap printer can be used to translate a Braille text into more than 200 languages.
  • Shared in open source, the machine's blueprints are available worldwide for the benefit of as many people as possible.
  • The designers of this new generation typewriter have just received an award in the United States.

It's a simple transparent plastic box with a few electronic components, tap tubes, and a circuit board inside. An invention "made in Rennes" that could change the lives of thousands of people suffering from vision disorders. In the Breton capital, however, no one has rushed to file a patent, nor to try to market this formidable object. Quite the opposite. Called "Braillerap", this printer has the particularity of having been designed as open source, i.e. all its plans will be shared worldwide. The goal? May this invention be integrated "into the common good of humanity" and be able to serve as many people as possible, especially the most disadvantaged. Developed in the small laboratory of an association in Rennes, the printer has just received a prize at the prestigious international Hackaday Prize competition, awarded in the United States.

Multitudes of points to know how to read

Two days after getting off the plane that brought him back from Los Angeles, Stéphane Godin still doesn't seem to realize what is happening to him. He, the computer scientist who tinkers with machines, has just won an international award for his "Braillerap". "It's a machine that can write in Braille from more than 200 languages. All you have to do is enter your text into the computer and the printer will take care of stamping it," says its designer modestly. "Stamping" or "embossing" or even "embossing" means that the machine is able to translate a written text into Braille and print it by marking the medium with a multitude of small dots.

This tactile writing system was developed by Louis Braille in 1825. When he was only 16 years old, this young Frenchman had developed a six-point system for "translating" a text for the blind and visually impaired. With new printing tools, sufferers can also "see" what the outline of a country looks like or what shape an elephant has just by touching a forest of small printed dots.

Have you heard of Braillerap? This open source printer was invented in #Rennes and has the particularity of printing Braille texts. An essential tool for blind or partially sighted people developed by @MyHumanKit and which has just won an award in the United States 🥳 pic.twitter.com/QrhliP02We

— 20 Minutes Rennes (@20minutesrennes) November 14, 2023

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Very well known and used all over the world, the braille system suffers from a serious handicap. It often requires a fairly substantial investment in printing machines that are not within everyone's reach. While printers usually cost 2,000 to 8,000 euros, the "Braillerap" stands out for its accessibility with a price of no more than 250 euros. "Initially, I wasn't the one who came up with this idea. There were mad people who wanted to make braille with nails and 3D printers. With a colleague, we wanted to stop tinkering and offer a more serious model," says Stéphane Godin with a teasing smile. In France, it is estimated that only 10% of visually impaired people use Braille. This is due to the new tools that make it possible to listen to the content of a book or a website, but above all to the lack of training for many people who are struck by blindness in their old age. But for all children and adults who know how to decipher it, this language is essential. Because it allows you to read.

"Let people learn to do it for themselves"

To develop his machine, the computer scientist from Rennes approached the "Human Lab" of the My Human Kit association, created on the initiative of Nicolas Huchet. Victim of an accident at work when he was barely 20 years old, he had succeeded in developing an open source prosthesis, a kind of bionic hand accessible to all. For the past ten years, his association has been working to make life easier for people with disabilities by developing adapted tools designed in its "fab lab", a tinkering workshop where all kinds of inventors meet. "The goal of open source is to spread, to spread, to spread, that people learn to do on their own," says Hughes Aubin.

This digital specialist has long worked to ensure that new technologies help as many people as possible. Since the beginning of the Braillerap printer, he has been travelling constantly to make it known. In Cameroon and India, he and Stéphane Godin trained local populations in the design of the open source printer by sharing the plans imagined in Rennes. "We bring the pieces and spend two days explaining how to put them together. The goal is for everyone to be able to understand how the machine works so that they can repair it. In Cameroon, we can't have parts delivered like we do." The machine also has the advantage of being able to print on materials other than paper, such as aluminum from a can for example.

At present, about twenty "Braillerap" printers are already in operation in Argentina, Egypt and even in the small Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. The inventors of this new kind of typewriter hope that the prize won in the United States will give them greater international visibility. "This project must be universal, it must be made known because it can help children read," says Stéphane Godin. "When you talk to visually impaired people, you understand that their lives can sometimes be an obstacle course. So, if we can help them a little... Hugues Aubin concludes.

  • Rennes
  • Ille-et-Vilaine
  • Brittany
  • Louis Braille
  • Blind
  • Handicap
  • Disabled
  • 3D Printer
  • Digital
  • Los Angeles
  • Prosthesis
  • Tech
  • Health
  • Laboratory