Blind Bargains

Meet Canute, a Multiline Braille Display for the Masses that's Being Tested Now

There's been a lot of talk about multiline braille displays, but one group has created a set of working units that are in the hands of testers. Dubbed the Canute, the display was demonstrated by Bristol Braille Technology, a UK-Based nonprofit and hackspace which recently created the prototype. The display includes 4 lines of text containing 28 cells per line and costs 440 pounds, or roughly $686 U.S. dollars as of the time of this post. Their website hints at a possible 8-line version as well. It uses off-the-shelf components and is powered by a Raspberry Pie, an inexpensive ultraportable computer often used by tinkerers. The software powering the display is also open-source. Check out the press release below to learn more. Thanks to Dave Williams for the tip.

Canute: Press Release

19th of May, 2015

World's first multiline Braille ebook reader demonstrated in Bristol and London

Bristol Braille Technology CIC, a not-for-profit company operating out of the Bristol Hackspace, has completed the first feature complete prototype of Canute. Canute will be
the world's first multiline refreshable Braille ebook reader
, which will cost less than a Braille typewriter and a fraction of the price of existing single line displays.

It is intended that Canute will help reverse the decline in Braille literacy by bringing digital Braille within financial reach of the average user for the first time.

Canute, a stand-alone refreshable Braille ebook reader for 440, being rolled out to testers over June

On Monday the 18th of May Canute Mk6 was demonstrated to the Bristol Braillists blind advocacy group in the Pervasive Media Studio, who were able to choose between and read a dozen novels that had been preloaded onto the machine.

On Tuesday the 19th Canute Mk6 was demonstrated again to the Information Technologists company in Stationers' Hall. During the meeting BBT also demonstrated Canute's ability to double up as an embosser, which means one can emboss notes, shopping lists, recipes or letters directly off Canute's surface.

On both occasions the feedback was very positive and the device was deemed ready to be tested by users in their own homes. Over June BBT will therefore be working with the Bristol and Reading Braillists groups to ensure Canute units are tested by dozens of blind users.

Emulator and software Open Sourced on GitHub - Braillists ready to expand functionality

The Canute uses radically different internal mechanisms from the prohibitively expensive existing Braille displays, which allows it to have the unique format of 28 characters per line over 4 lines.

It uses off the shelf motors and plastic components from laser cutters. It runs off Open Sourced ebook software that can be freely changed so users can add their own functionality, adapt the user interface to their tastes.

There are already blind users and sighted engineers from around the world who have expressed an interest in adapting it to various different use cases and languages.



It's something phenomenal. I'm already in love with this, and I'm not really a Braille person. I gave up Braille many years ago... but this would definitely intrigue me... I'm completely blown away by this.        Andre Louis, a blind musician and broadcaster, at Stationers' Hall, see Periscope broadcast:

There are many wonderful ways digital technology can open the world up to those with visual impairments and this can be balanced by opportunities to master written culture, whether as readers or writers. We are proud to be supporting Canute, which is at the forefront of efforts to bring Braille, and therefore literacy for blind people, into the 21st century.        Vicki Hearn, Director of Nominet Trust 

I am delighted that the Innovation 4 Growth programme has enabled Bristol Braille to realise its research and development goals, and to evolve an innovative concept into a product that is ready for user testing.        Tracey John, University of the West of England Head of Business, Research and Professional Development 

To the editors:

For many blind people Braille
literacy. Braille teaching and usage has been falling for decades and are now in danger of entering terminal decline. Technical stagnation has left a majority of blind people without the means to become literate or exercise their literacy. Canute is intended to help reverse this decline by being multiline and radically affordable.

Bristol Braille Technology was founded in 2011 by Ed Rogers to continue a project he had been working on since 2008. The Canute project began in October 2012. Its team is composed of volunteers and those working at voluntary half-rates.

Bristol Braille Technology has committed to creating devices that can be manufactured and repaired anywhere in the world, to Open Sourcing as much of its work as possible, and to allowing individuals to build their own devices according to their own needs from those sources. We are protecting Canute's IP with licences which will allow us to ensure that all improvements to the design must be fed back to the community.

Canute is controlled from an internal Raspberry Pi computer running Raspbian Linux. Computer Aided Design is done in the Open Source OpenSCAD programme, which is entirely textual and will eventually be editable by blind designers using the Canute itself.

The Braillists group was co-founded by Scott Wood, Senior Technology Co-ordinator at Action for Blind People, Paul Sullivan, Access Officer at M-Shed and Steph Tyszka, a social entrepreneur associated with BBT. It has over sixty members from around the UK.

The Canute has been developed with funding from
iNet Microelectronics, iNet Biomedical, The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Blatchington Court Trust, The Product Development Centre, The Information Technologists' Company and The Engineers' Innovation Network.

The Canute Mk6 specifically was funded by;

Innovation 4 Growth

The University is committed to supporting enterprise and economic development in the Bristol city-region and right across the South West, with health solutions and assisted living being a particular area of focus. This is an excellent example of that commitment translating into real support for promising regional businesses. We wish Bristol Braille every success with the trials and look forward to supporting other SMEs when the next round of Innovation 4 Growth funding launches later this year.        Tracey John 

Nominet Trust

Nominet Trust is the UK s leading Tech for Good funder. The Trust believes in harnessing the power of digital technology to improve lives and communities.

A UK registered charity, Nominet Trust brings together, invests in and supports people committed to using digital technology to create social and economic value.

Nominet Trust has invested in hundreds of projects since its inception, providing business support as well as financial investment, seeking to connect projects to prospective partners who can help increase their reach and impact.

Nominet Trust is the charitable foundation of Nominet, the company responsible for running the .UK internet infrastructure. Nominet believes in the positive power of the internet, and with the money generated from the registration of web addresses ending in .uk,, and, Nominet is proud to be able to fund Nominet Trust s work.

We have also been aided by, amongst others,
Pervasive Media Studio,
Bristol Hackspace and
Business Disability Forum.

Source: Bristol Braille Technology
Category: News
Displaying 2 comments.
Vivien Wednesday, 17-Jun-2015 08:37 AM ET:

Thanks so much for posting this article. I have never used Linux myself, but I am very excited about this development.

darknexus Wednesday, 17-Jun-2015 10:58 AM ET:

Now, this is more of what I like to see in access technology. I wish I were British so I could get one of these to test. This is not your same old same old, government-will-pay-for-it blindie equipment. Well done to these people. We need more like them!

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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