Discontinuing work on current actuation method

A project log for Refreshable Braille Display

A cost effective way to make a refreshable braille display

vijayVijay 06/18/2016 at 20:513 Comments

Hi all,

As mentioned in my previous post, it’s been brought to our attention that features of the open source refreshable Braille display project have already been covered under a patent application filed by Paul D’souza on 5th November, 2014.

Paul’s patent describes the use of “micro-motor actuated pins, the pin cantilever design, the mechanical stop to limit rotor rotation, motors with rotors or cams, mounted vertically or horizontally used to lift pins directly or via an interposer, low force selector etc” - many of these are featured we have included in this device.

Paul has requested we discontinue the project in the interest of potential manufacturers and licensees of his patent, as well as to avoid any legal obligations he may face with the patent office. As a result, the CERN Open Hardware License the project was released under has effectively been invalidated and so I have discontinued work on this current method of braille pin actuation. The patent will severely restrict any global (and particularly local) impact we can make with this project, which was our whole motivation.

However, I would like to make clear that the designs and documentation we have released have been created from scratch, sharing only the working principles of Paul’s patent. My intention has always been to make a completely 3D printable refreshable braille display that anyone can access and I have been working on braille technologies for the past three years. As part of this work, I have developed software to convert text documents to braille and built two refreshable braille display prototypes, one using micro servo actuators and another using a hacked dot-matrix printer head. At that time, I was still a kid in college and didn’t have much knowledge about production techniques or skill in design, CAD, and electronics.

Things have changed a lot since then. Going through the process of setting up and running a 3D printing and product design startup, I’ve learned exactly what I need to know to create just about anything. I actually met Paul at a local Maker Faire and we instantly connected because of our shared efforts on braille and I was amazed and intrigued by his genius ideas for actuation. This meeting resparked my passion for braille and I began using cell-phone vibration motors as a method of actuation along with my experience with FDM 3D printing and product development to create a solution that anyone in the world could potentially have access to just by downloading the files.

What’s more, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to show one of my early braille display prototypes to the president of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, before he passed away. He made me promise that I would do everything in my power to ensure the project would reach the people that it matters most to and that has become my life's mission ever since.

Since the 3D designs and documentation are my own original intellectual property, I will be releasing everything under Creative Commons Attribution-shareAlike 4.0 International. This is an open source license that allows anyone to use, modify, and share the documentation and 3D designs under the same license. However, anyone wishing to manufacture and distribute the device itself should contact Paul D’Souza on I have done this to ensure that people can make a personal copy for studying purposes.

I will certainly not stop working on the refreshable braille display due to this hiccup. I have seen some amazing motors from Aliexpress while buying motors for the current system and I am confident that by collaborating with other members of the open hardware community we come up with a “patent infringement free” solution that is feasible, scalable, and will achieve my goal of bringing digital literacy to the visually impaired all around the world.

I wish @PAUL DSOUZA all the best, he has been incredibly supportive on this project, and multiple others my team and I have been working on. I formally apologize for any inconvenience caused to him.

Big thanks to @K.C. Lee @Radomir Dopieralski @Yann Guidon / YGDES @Martin and so many others who have been supporting the project. Its been awesome.

Links to my past work mentioned in this post:


PAUL DSOUZA wrote 06/20/2016 at 17:20 point

Thanks Sandeep for your concern.    The project will come to light and has done so already in a few working prototypes.  The video below is of a semi automatic version and there is a version like Vijay was proposing that was halted because of cost and other issues highlighted  by Vijay earlier.  Currently the automatic version being developed by Sapient Nitro... who have already spent months working with me on this.  ...

PS. as per the new patent rules...if the patent is un affordable or cannot be worked by the patentee....the pat office (India)  can give it to anyone who can work it and make it affordable!!

So our target group's interest will be protected either way.

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Sandeep Patil wrote 06/20/2016 at 05:33 point

@PAUL DSOUZA  To be completely frank; what mattered in this project to most of folks following this was to see this project come to light. The good progress done with this project hopefully comes back around in some other form. What hits me like a storm is the patients should not hinder genuine development like this. If the patent that you own does not turn in to an affordable product, it will be a very sad thing. Wish all the luck to both of you to bring this to light. 

PS: For OSHW folks check this talk on the exact thing by Nate of Sparkfun

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PAUL DSOUZA wrote 06/19/2016 at 17:22 point


I appreciate your gracious response in pulling this Braille Display design after
bringing it to your notice. While I have a similar vision for this product,  the approach I took - I admit - is different and constricting.  However, that is a path I need to follow and cannot change. I myself was quite ignorant of all the unexpected legalities that suddenly surfaced until they were brought to my attention.

I hope your prediction that "The patent will severely restrict any global (and particularly local)  impact we can make with this project", does not come to pass!   My vision and motivation has been similar to yours – and my contribution to the visually impaired will be in judiciously making available the intellectual property I own in an acceptable package.

In fact I hope this 'hiccup' spurs you on to move around and beyond the limits imposed by the patent regime.  The healthy competition between the open source and patent regimes can work towards delivering more quality inventions and innovations to our visually impaired friends.

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