Braille Monitor                          November 2019

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Electronic Braille Reimagined: The Revolution of the Canute 360

by Ed Rogers

Ed RogersFrom the Editor: Ed Rogers is the founder and managing director of Bristol Braille Technology. Mr. Rogers lives in the United Kingdom and has been working with the National Federation of the Blind and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults for quite some time. His device is truly revolutionary and a dream come true for many of us who have wanted a multiline Braille display. Here is what he said to the 2019 National Convention on Friday afternoon:

Thank you, Mark. We’ve been told by all sorts of people that they’ve been waiting for decades, so we have built, as you have heard, a multiline Braille e-reader. It has nine lines, forty cells each. That is 360 cells of refreshable Braille. And the cost: well, it is on sale in the UK at the moment for just over $2,000. It’s called the Canute 360. This has been in development for seven years. We are a not-for-profit company from Bristol in England. The Canute project has been an open and collaborative effort with associations of Braillists across the US, the UK, and across the rest of the world. Our common goal for all of us involved has been to make an affordable machine to increase the use of Braille everywhere.

The Canute 360 has hard Braille. It’s like signage Braille. It’s easy to feel, even for some people with neuropathy who might find soft Braille more difficult. It has quite wide line spacing, again making it easy for learners to keep tracking on their line. It reads BRF files from an SD card or USB stick. It will handle anything that you would send to an embosser or through your normal transcription software. There is even a preset now in Duxbury for the Canute, and we are very pleased about this. The Canute is a drop-in replacement for stacks of paper Braille when you don’t have the space for that. We know that not everyone has an entire room available for paper Braille.

When using the reader, you can insert bookmarks and navigate by page number. In other words, it is an e-book reader. It’s a very stripped down playing device for reading high-quality Braille files.

How many people here use Braille music, may I ask? [Cheers in the audience] You can read the left hand and the right hand of a piano piece without having to shuffle up and down and without having to carry three cubic feet of paper with you everywhere you go if you’re a traveling musician. We are happy to now be working with Dancing Dots and hope you will see something in the very near future.

Multiline Braille is also critical for technical subjects as I’m sure most of you know. How about generating a complex equation in Nemeth Code and viewing it on one display? You can track up and down the columns and see how they add up. How about generating two complex equations and putting them next to each other, still on the same display?

We are just beginning to find out how useful multiline Braille—refreshable Braille—will be in those subjects. One of the best uses for a 360-cell display is tables. When you’ve got forty cells in a line and nine lines, you can present times tables, spreadsheets, or from your favorite transcription software. You can present sports results for a whole league on one screen or a whole month of a calendar on one screen.

Back in Britain there is a friend of mine who is a programmer. She’s going to be using it to review log files. That might sound like a mundane usage, but it’s actually critical how much faster that can make someone’s job as a professional programmer and being able to scroll down a log file.  

But we haven’t even begun to see how powerful this can be for coding with all the correct whitespace and indentation. Think about using it for the creation of Python or something like that. This is just the beginning.

What about graphs and charts and vectors? This isn’t what the Canute was designed for; it was designed for Braille. But when you’ve got spatial Braille, you can start experimenting with bar graphs, showing route maps, and how about floor plans? Now you can really start experimenting with these things.

Finally, I would just like to ask how many people here read Braille for pleasure? [loud cheers and applause] Well, not everyone likes to read quadratic equations, and not everyone can read music Braille, but I think everyone can appreciate that it’s kind of nice to have a digital display that shows whole paragraphs. You can feel the shape of a paragraph. You can feel bullet points, and you can compare between them by running your hand up and down, and it keeps all the formatting. It will show a block quotation with all of the formatting that you would expect. In other words, you will get all the things you expect and now get from paper Braille. [applause]

But to get to this stage has been quite a marathon. I mentioned earlier the support we received from the National Federation of the Blind and the American Action Fund in order to get this far. All of that is essentially being honored, and we are therefore very honored by receiving the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award today. It means an awful lot to our entire team and the hundreds of people in Britain, America, and other places around the world who have been testing this and proving where we went right and where we went wrong. I can’t help but remember all of those times when we made a prototype and had to drive it two hundred miles to somewhere for testing. When we got there, it didn’t work, so we had to drive it two hundred miles back in the rain on a motorcycle. We had to drive it all the way back again after we fixed it. So those sorts of things really come together when you receive recognition like this, and earlier this year we were very pleased to receive the Touch of Genius Award from the National Braille Press at CSUN. I wasn’t expecting when I first went to see a Touch of Genius Award presentation in 2016 that I would pick that up, just as I wasn’t expecting when I first came to this convention three years ago that I would be standing up here getting frightened.

In fact we have been very lucky with our partners. We are very proud to be working in the United States with the Federation, with the Action Fund, and with the American Printing House for the Blind, which has the Canute on its stand and also sponsored us to go through this complex prototyping process. They’ll hopefully be selling this soon, so watch this space.

Outside America, we’ve been working with and helped found the Braillists Foundation. Now this may be unfamiliar to many of you, but this is an organization founded and very much inspired by the work that the NFB does. This is a mostly British organization which realized that there weren’t that many people in Britain who were trying to really promote new Braille projects and technologies and to support those inventors. We’ve now got 500 members, and we’d like to thank them for all that they’ve put in.

Techno-Vision, in the UK, is a distributor who has recently taken on the Canute 360. The CNIB in Canada is making great strides in testing how multiline Braille will work in Braille libraries. Many others are just starting their trials now.

As Mark said, we’ve been coming for several years now. It’s always been extremely educational, so we owe a great deal to the critique and the feedback we received over those years. In particular I’m going to name a few, but there have been more: the Office of the President, the Technology Evaluation Committee, the Research and Development Committee, the National Organization to Promote the Use of Braille, the Braille music committee, and of course the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults all get credit for helping us. Not least I want to thank all of the members in the room today who have come along after meetings and have given us valuable advice. Some of you stayed for up to an hour telling us what was going wrong in our presentation. If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be here now, and the machine would not work. So thank you very much. [applause]

So far, we’ve run trials in eighty schools in England, Scotland, and Ireland. We have also worked with individuals and organizations. We’ve been running trials in Europe, in Zambia, in parts of India, and of course in Canada like I just mentioned. We’ve also run trials in Kentucky, in Boston, in Ohio, and in Baltimore. But now we need to know more about how we will all use multiline refreshable Braille. The Canute 360 is just the start of multiline refreshable Braille, and there’s a lot that everyone needs to know about how it will impact Braille production and the use of Braille. So any organization out there—be it a college, a center, or printing house—we think that their work or their pleasure reading will be improved by multiline Braille. We want to hear from you, and we want to run those proposed trials together. We want to know what impact this is going to have, what needs to happen, and what standards need to be set, so please talk to us.

I leave you with this then: whether you are an organization or an individual, please get in contact with us. Visit our website bristolbraille.co.uk. You can call or email us because we want you to tell us what you have been waiting to do on multiline Braille displays as you have dreamed about them over all of these years. Now it’s probably possible with the Canute 360. Oh yes, when is it available in the US? We hope that it will be available this year. Thank you.

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