Blind Bargains

#CSUNATC22 Audio: A Multi-Format Future For The Multi-Line canute

Transcribed by Grecia Ramirez

Directly, and actually in person, from Anaheim, it s coverage of CSUN 2022. Brought to you by AFB AccessWorld.
For the latest news and accessibility information on mainstream and access technology; Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon offerings; access technology book reviews and mobile apps; and how they can enhance entertainment, education, and employment, log onto AccessWorld. The American Foundation for the Blind s free online technology magazine.
Now, here s J.J. Meddaugh.
J.J. MEDDAUGH: Blind Bargains virtual Exhibit Hall coverage, CSUN 2022 and beyond and across the pond. Hey. I rhymed myself. I will have an award for me later. No. I m just kidding.
Ed Rogers, Managing Director, and Charlie Harding, Marketing Distribution Manager for Bristol Braille Technology. The Canute is alive, and we have updates to share. Welcome back to the podcast.
ED Rogers: Thank you very much. It must have been a couple years.
JM: Yes. Absolutely. And this is your first time, I think, Charlie, on this?
CH: It is my first time, so thanks for having me.
JM: Yeah. Sounds great. And we ll get back to you in just a second, Charlie. Welcome.
I want to talk to Ed first though because we ve been talking about the Canute for a few years, and you got a bit of a head start on some of the other multiline things that have been out there. The Canute has actually shipped. We ve seen units in hand. But why don t you go ahead and give an update on the current status of the Canute and what s going on.
ER: Yeah. We started shipping right at the start of 2020, about the same time as the pandemic, actually. And
JM: What a time.
ER: -- we shipped perfect timing. We shipped a batch of machines out, our very first commercial machines. And then, again, at the end of 2021, we shipped another batch out. And what we are focusing on now is on making sure that the customers that have those machines can actually start to do some more interesting things with them. Because we built these machines and we sold these machines as eBook readers. This is a paperless Braille page, a full Braille library. And, of course, as it s got nine lines, you get the kind of context that you don t get on any other Braille Display because it s 40 cells by nine lines. That s a third of a Braille Ready File, a BRF file.
So that was our initial focus. But we re now starting to think about varying the uses people put the Canute to.
JM: So before we get into what some of the people are using the Canute for, let s just talk about that. The Canute, like you said, has gone through a couple different runs now. But I know there s been certainly, the part shortage has been affecting lots of different industries and such. How are things looking as far as the Canute users in so far as people who want to think about getting into the Canute?
ER: Well, we ve been very heavily affected like many, many factory-owned businesses and like a lot in this industry. At this moment, the machines that are out there are the machines that are available, so there s very limited stocks for people wanting to buy them. But there s hope that the situation can resolve itself soon. These things are being worked and we re working through them. But meanwhile, we do have machines out there in the field being used, and yeah. We hope to go back into production very soon. Like I said, we finished our last one just at the at the start of 2022.
JM: Yeah. I can realize that too. It s a product that is specialized and takes a certain set of parts, so I think there s an expectation that it s not the type of product that you re going to order today, and you re going to have these things delivered tomorrow; right?
ER: No. One of the things which is making Braille Displays, especially multiline Braille Displays, such a challenge is that the Canute has of course that being 40 cells by nine lines, and each of those cells is a six-dot because it s a six-dot system. That is 2160 -- please write in if I ve got that wrong. That s a lot of moving parts.
Now, we went for an approach which has enabled us to sell the Canute as approximately the same price as a 40-cell Braille Display, which is to use a very mechanical system where we actually have although we have something like 2 thousand pins, we only have about a thousand moving parts. I say only, but of course, that makes for a very complicated machine to build. As it is though, we re quite proud, to be honest if you ll forgive us we re quite proud for manufacturing it here in Bristol, in the U.K. We buy the parts in, we had a great team building these machines, and they re all, you know, hand-built, effectively, by us, and then sent out to the customers.
JM: I think there s a lot of potential going forward. But let s talk about, first, what people are using the Canute for now. And, Charlie, you re a little bit newer to Bristol, and I think you ve talked to a lot of customers about what they are using the Canute for, so why don t you go ahead and give me a couple examples of what you ve been hearing from users.
CH: Oh. Absolutely. It s been really nice, like, getting to know people that are using their Canutes. And like Ed was saying that we originally started making them as an E reader, but then, obviously, we found out that there s a lot more that can be done with them. So I mean, for example, we ve sold one to a girl who s headed off to university. She s doing an English literature degree, so not only can she use it to read for fun, she s using it to help her with her studies. Saves them a lot of paper as well.
JM: Yeah.
CH: Less to carry about in a bag. We ve spoken to an undergrad student who is doing simultaneous music and physics degrees.
JM: Wow.
CH: And what he really found helpful with the Canute is being able to read multiple lines of content when it came to reading music. So he was able to do the notes and see the lyrics, essentially. And so instead of having to keep cross-referencing, he was able to do that in one place. And he said that he d wished he d actually had access to it when he was doing his physics degrees because he probably would have carried on with that line of career sorry with that line of education now. It would have made his physics and Maths sets a lot easier to understand and to have done that work. And again, he mentioned that, like, not having to use as much paper was really, really good.
And then, finally, there s someone that works with us now, one of our interns, who s been absolutely invaluable. And she s said how great it s been for using for Maths, again, with things like complex equations. And she s said that the you know, it s actually improved her calculation speed and her accuracy because she s able to read the Maths and use that data in a, just, much more effective way.
So yeah. In all, like, we love people buying the Canutes and sort of reading for pleasure and catching up with all those books and things, but, before, they ve had to wait for them to be delivered and all this paper and these, you know, five-foot tall series of books. And actually seeing people really engaging with the technology and using it to help them with their education and their careers has been really, really lovely. And we re really happy to keep sort of pushing on and improving that functionality for people.
JM: Yeah. The cost of paper alone, you re looking at $40, $50 for a thousand sheets. And I m sure that s just going to keep going up, you know, so I can see
CH: Oh. I completely agree. I mean, this economy.
JM: Absolutely. And that s just going to keep adding up, and, you know, when you don t have to buy paper, and you can have, essentially, a device that works as a refreshable embosser is how I ve described it to some people, that can just keep pumping out Braille over and over really can be beneficial.
CH: Absolutely. And it s just one of those and I mean, even if you don t care about the environment -- and I, you know, waggle my finger at anybody that doesn t -- but it s, you know, it s just a space-saving thing, you know. I mean, we those books are pretty bulky, and just being able to set a Canute on your desk and sort of plug it and go almost is it s invaluable, really. Yeah. It s really freeing people up to get on with things that they want to do rather than sitting around waiting for deliveries, paying for paper, you know. It s really beneficial.
JM: Great. So we ve talked for a long time about the other potential uses of the Canute, and, full disclosure, A T Guys, we ve sold the Canute as well. And one of the big things that keeps coming up is either how do you load in other types of books besides BRF and TXT files or will it have, quote, unquote, screen reader support? Ed, you ve been doing a little bit of work in these areas.
ER: Yeah. We ve been doing a bit of work in those areas. It s been one of those relationships which has really grown during the pandemic, initially, thanks to the Google Chrome OS team, but later on, we ve had our -- we ve been working directly with the BRLTTY team. Now, for those who don t know, this is a screen reader led by Dave Mielke. And this is a screen reader that s used for lot a lot for very technical uses. It s a console screen reader --
JM: Yeah.
ER: -- rather than a graphical user interface screen reader, and we ve seen some real improvements on it. And as a result, you can plug your Canute now into a computer into a Windows computer or a Linux computer, and you can then bring up a console and you can use text-mode programs. You can do your own programming. You can for those who use the CommandLine. This is a really powerful tool. And what we re really talking about here is for people who want to take make advanced uses of the Canute, who people who are very tech savvy. And this is still quite early days for multiline Braille being used in this way. So we are certainly looking for people to start dipping their toes in the water. People who are maybe who do something related to computer science for their work. It could be as simple as if you ve got a program that outputs logs, and you just want to be able to see that directly on your, you know in a columner format. You want to be able to see the actual columns of the log, you can plug a Canute in, run this program in the background, and have your Canute output those things. Like I said, these are very technical things. But some of these areas are areas where Braille readers can really excel, especially when given the same kind of context that you get with multiple lines where you can compare like Charlie was saying with the music. You can compare the results on one paragraph with the result on another paragraph.
JM: I want to ask a really tech sorry. Sorry. Go ahead go ahead.
ER: You were saying about users using different files on their Canutes. Now
JM: Yes.
ER: -- the Canute accepts Braille-ready format as its input like many Braille Displays like many stand-alone Braille Displays. That s its default format. What we re working on now and this would be for all existing customers is -- this does not require using a screen reader just a small upgrade that people can go on someone s SD card where they could put some of the more common formats like TXT on it, and it would convert that to a BRF that you can then read on the device without having to do the conversion on your computer. This has not yet been released, but it will be released, and that will be for all existing customers. So once we do that, we can start to play around a little bit because you can people can come in and say, well, I put my DOCX format on it, and it was great, but could you maybe change it so that there s some space between the header and the paragraph underneath it, and we can go, Sure. Well, let s change the format so it really fits with that.
And you can t do that unless you ve got multiple lines. And for me, what s important as well is that you can t easily achieve the true, sort of, representation of white space unless you have 40 cells by multiple lines. Because when you get shorter than that, you can t represent most BRFs, and it becomes very difficult to do tables or tabular format and to do indentation.
So for example, if you re trying to represent functions in code, then you need to be able to indent things quite far. And that s where things like having 40 cells with nine lines can mean you can see one function, and then you can see the next function underneath it. This is all stuff that s in that requires the this is future development, but what -- like I said, at the moment, what people can do is they can have a go at using the BRLTTY screen reader if they are very technically savvy. Otherwise, if they re just someone who wants to be able to read their documents on the Canute, they can get in contact with us and we can let them know when that s ready.
JM: I m going to ask one really technical question, but I ll try to phrase it in a format I won t lose 99 percent of our listeners. So when you re connected to the screen reader, which is a console -- so CommandLine where you type commands and it would output something, is it set up in a way that everything that is output would come to the Canute, or is it set up that it will only output to Canute if you implicitly tell it to, as in like redirecting output to a printer or a text file?
ER: Well, also attempting not to lose 99 percent of your listeners. There are two answers to that. The simple answer is when you re using BRLTTY as your main screen reader, everything which is on the console on the CommandLine will be output to the Canute. So if you use CommandLine programs and that outputs to the console, that will then output to the Canute once you ve set it up correctly. There is something called BRLAPI, which means that you can choose what to output to the Canute. So a program if a program has been built especially for it to support Canute, it can do that in a choosy sort of way, which brings us onto using Duxbury with the Canute, which is something that they ve been developing. And it s very exciting, the idea that you can plug a Canute in on a window s machine, have your Duxbury DBT latest version running, and the Braille output on DBT will be simultaneously output to the Canute.
JM: And that s another way to solve the file format challenge as well because it s eliminates an extra step.
ER: Yeah. And of course, Duxbury DBT has some of the most advanced ways of representing tables, for example, and has a the sort of support for conversion that in some ways, you can only get through that program.
JM: These types of features I mean I think it s really important to show what s possible with Canute as you look towards creating more units, as you look towards, you know, going back into production, I do feel like it s important to show some of these things that have been kind of talked about as possibilities, to show them as reality as you try to go in to make more of these; right?
ER: Right. That s very much what we re looking at doing over the rest of this year and early next year.
JM: Charlie, you wanted to talk to a little bit about the future of Bristol and the Canute and kind of transitioning us to where that leaves us next as more of these software features come in, as more interest develops. Obviously, there s going to be a desire to create more units. So what s the near future look like for the Canute?
And whoever wants to answer this I guess the other related question is how does the Canute fit in now with all these other multiline products and graphics products being announced?
CH: I think well, I mean, I ll take the first question.
JM: All right.
CH: Thanks, Ken. We ve got some really exciting plans, actually, in the mix. We just we really want to get the Canute out to more users, essentially. That s the goal. And we really want to, sort of like what Ed was saying before, like, really expand what people are using the Canute for, and, you know, part of that, really, think further about what Braille can be used for. I think, sort of a people assume Braille reading yes. Absolutely. But, you know, as we ve been discussing, like, there s so much more that can be done with it.
So what we re hoping to do is to organize some fundraisers and get the Canutes into some blind specialist schools and have them sort of set up to, again, specialize in certain subjects. We want to give kids, sort of, access to Braille, but not just traditional reading. You know, that s really, really important. You know, we want kids to read. Brilliant. But, you know, it s just really kind of giving them access to something even more exciting.
And then, you know, with, hopefully, that becoming a success, we d like to expand that again and send it out to adult Braille users. And what we d like, actually, is for anybody interested in our, sort of, funding endeavors wanting to get involved, wanting just some more information is to sign up on our mailing list on the website. It s a super easy box just to fill in. We will be releasing this information in its entirety, hopefully, over the next, kind of, couple of weeks, once we ve got all our ducks in a row. And then hopefully, fingers crossed
JM: Right.
CH: And then on the 30th of April, in Bristol -- in the U.K., obviously -- we re going to be doing a demo of some of the work that we ve been doing with our group, the Braillists. So we re really looking forward to getting some hands-on feedback on what we re up to. We ve had a little bit of showing show-and-tell, as it were, in the last couple of weeks, and everyone s been really, really positive, which has been lovely. And then, fingers crossed, we should be making it out to the NFB convention this year in some way, shape, or form.
So that s sort of a little laundry list of everything that we re hoping to get sorted in the next six months, I d say.
JM: Awesome. Maybe -- I guess I ll let Ed take the other part of that before we go.
ER: Yeah.
JM: Lot of things going on. Lot happened at CSUN with tablets getting announced. And another thing that s related that I think applies to Canute is the new development of the EBRF format. So how does the Canute play into all of that?
ER: Well, the EBRF format itself is an interesting development if it comes off the ground. This would be the what do I want to say necessarily the second attempt at this. But this is certainly tied with the portable embosser format, and I hope that we get further with this because I think it s very important that there is a Braille format -- or formatted Braille which can hold some metadata. So EBRF or XMLBRF would be an advance for spreading Braille around, and I look forward to getting involved in how that develops.
On the CSUN, you were able to attend that, J.J.? I wasn t actually able to attend this year. But I gather there were some interesting new tablets being announced or being demoed or promised to be demoed.
JM: Yeah. Oh, yeah. We did definitely did see a lot of that in various stages of development. Nothing that is being sold today, but certainly stuff that is being talked about especially from Dot and APH.
ER: Yeah. And what I find interesting is the focus appears to be very strongly on graphics, which is interesting. And I suspect, in the long run, complementary to what we re doing. Of course, the Canute has been on the market now for two years. And our focus is very much on multiline Braille.
And we do experiments with graphics on the Canute using contractions -- two-letter contractions -- to represent a grid of, for example, buildings. So you can sort of move around a map like that. These are experiments that we ve tried and we ve but these are very much focused on Braille itself.
So some of these new tablets I ve seen are very focused on Vector graphics and on Bitmap graphics, and it ll be very interesting to see where they go with that. Like I said, our own focus is going to be kept strictly on a format of Braille which fits with high-quality formatted Braille that you would otherwise send to an embosser. It s like -- you said yourself, it s like a refreshable embosser. So that means 40 cells wide as opposed to 20 cells or 32 cells wide. That s very much an important fact for us.
And I think where we would end up seeing this shaking out in a few years, if some of these tablets come to market and if they are a comparable price, is a split between tablets which are focusing on being able to output graphics and the Canute which is still talking more about tabular content. So that s tables and text which has where the focus is really on the context around each character and each cell.
JM: Sounds fair. We look forward to seeing you perhaps in New Orleans if that happens. And of course, anyone who is in the U.K. can meet up at the end of April. Charlie, you want to give out the contact information if people want to sign up, get involved, help with fundraising, maybe express interest in buying one of these things in the future? What s the best way to do that?
CH: Yeah. Absolutely. They can Email me direct. I love to get Emails. It s Charlie, C-h-a-r-l-i-e, dot Harding, H-a-r-d-i-n-g, at Bristol Braille dot ORG. That will come straight to me, and -- yeah. I will be happy to pop you in a mailing list, give you an update, have a chat, anything like that. No problem at all.
JM: Awesome. Thank you, Charlie, thank you, Ed so much for coming on the podcast. We always appreciate it.
ER: Thank you, J.J.
CH: Thanks so much.
ER: Have a good rest of your week.
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Copyright 2022.
An emerging theme from our CSUNATC22 coverage revolves around the future of Braille beyond a single row of cells. We've spoken to several A.T. makers about this over the years, specifically in BBQ 200, but a lot has changed since 2019. J.J. caught up with Bristol Braille s Ed Rogers, Managing Director, and Charlie Harding, Marketing Distribution Manager, to talk about what it has been like to release the multi-line display during Pandemic times. The trio then cover some of the success stories of canute users and how these successes have led the team to think beyond eBook reading for future updates. File conversion, Duxbury compatibility and Screen Reader support are discussed along with some thoughts about the EBRF format. To learn more about the canute in the U.S., visit the A.T. Guys website. For other inquiries, visit Bristol Braille on the web. Also, be sure to keep up with many things regarding Braille by heading over to the Braillist Foundation

Blind Bargains Virtual Exhibit Hall coverage is Brought to you by AFB AccessWorld.

For the latest news and accessibility information on mainstream and access technology, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon offerings, access technology book reviews, and mobile apps, and how they can enhance entertainment, education and employment, log on to AccessWorld, the American Foundation for the Blind's free, monthly, online technology magazine. Visit

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Joe Steinkamp is no stranger to the world of technology, having been a user of video magnification and blindness related electronic devices since 1979. Joe has worked in radio, retail management and Vocational Rehabilitation for blind and low vision individuals in Texas. He has been writing about the A.T. Industry for 15 years and podcasting about it for almost a decade.

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