Tipo Braille Smartphone Keypad Is a Brilliantly Simple Interface

Modern smartphones are better in almost every way than the basic and feature phones that came before. While able to display images, movies, and play games on brilliant touchscreens, one feature had to be sacrificed in order to gain screen real estate: the physical keypad. While many find this to be an annoying but necessary trade-off, the issue becomes much more serious for those who are visually impaired, leaving them without an efficient typing method.

Tipo is a USB Braille keyboard that attaches to the back of a phone. (📷: Vijay Varada)

After observing this issue, Vijay Varada surveyed 10 visually impaired people to find that eight of them used feature phones, and the remaining two depend on others for text input. Concluding that this was indeed a problem, he came up with a brilliantly simple device called Tipo. It takes the form of a keyboard that uses six keys to input characters, where both hands are used simultaneously in order to quickly form letters.

While the unit can be used as a tactile interface, it can also serve as a Braille trainer, giving quick feedback as to what letter each combination of dots signifies. While now a prototype, it recently won the Hackaday Prize for Best Product, and I look forward to hopefully seeing this in mass production in the near future!

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