When Shubham Banerjee learned how expensive Braille printers were, he thought he could do better. All he needed was a month and a set of Legos.
When Shubham Banerjee learned how expensive Braille printers were, the 12-year-old boy thought he could do better. All he needed was a month, and a set of Legos.
And after weeks of fitting yellow, red and blue plastic blocks together - hooked up to robot-like machines - Shubham came up with not only a science fair hit, but an invention that actually helps people. He calls his Braille reader, the "Braigo."
"I think I'm doing something that could actually help people," Shubham says.
Shubham, who attends San Jose's Champion School, got the idea after a flyer was dropped off on the family's doorstep soliciting donations for an organization that helps the blind. Shubham realized he knew very little about what life must be like for the visually impaired. And he wanted to do something about that.
So he got to work putting together a $350 Lego Mindstorms kit bought for him by his father, who works at Intel in Silicon Valley. But he had lots of questions, and research to do.
"I asked my dad 'How do blind people read?'" Shubham says. "My dad said to 'Google it.' So I did."
After diving into the Internet, Shubham found out a lot about Braille printers. Not only how they work, but how expensive they are. Most start at about $2,000. He figured that put them out of reach of many people who might benefit from one.
Shubham first told his mother that when he was older he would like to buy the printers and give them to blind people. Then it occurred to him to try and make one.
"I didn't know if it was even possible," Shubham says.
Shubham spent the next four weeks working at the family kitchen table after school. Shubham would often stay up past midnight fiddling with his creation. He went through seven failed prototypes before finally coming up with the right configuration. He essentially created a robot out of machinery and Legos that creates tiny holes in paper and creates the alphabet in Braille.
It was late one night that Shubham's printer -now dubbed the Braigo - printed its first letter. "It was a eureka moment," Shubham recalls. "My mom was like, 'Yea!'"
Shubham's creation made its debut at his school's science fair, and has been gaining popularity ever since. Videos Shubham posted on YouTube describing his invention have collected hundreds of thousand of views. People, both sighted and blind, have reached out to him from around the world with messages of admiration and congratulations.
Even the Lego company tweeted a compliment to him.
For now, Shubham's Braigo is the only prototype available. But his goal is to make detailed instructions and put them online for others to copy for free.