PATRICK TEHAN SAN JOSE (CALIF.) MERCURY NEWS PHOTOS Shubham Banerjee, now 13, assembles the Braille printer he built out of Legos in his California home for a science project.
12-year-old develops cheaper Braille printer for the blind
By Heather Somerville SAN JOSE (CALIF) MERCURY NEWS
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In December, seventh-grader Shubham Banerjee asked his parents how blind people read. • A Silicon Valley tech professional, dad Neil Banerjee told his son to “Google it.” • So Shubham did, and with a few Internet searches he learned about Braille, the tactile writing system used by the blind, and Braille printers, which, to the 12-year-old’s shock, cost thousands of dollars.
.One school science-fair victory, a few national accolades, $35,000 of his parents’ savings and a visit to the White House later, Shubham today is the founder of the Palo Alto startup Braigo Labs, which aims to become the first purveyor of low-cost, compact Braille printers. Last week, Intel Capital, the company’s global investment arm, announced that it has invested in the teenager’s company, making Shubham the world’s youngest tech entrepreneur to receive venture-capital funding.
“It was curiosity,” explained Shubham, now 13 and an eighth-grader at Champion School in San Jose. “I’m always thinking up something. If you think it can be done, then it can probably be done.”
The new Braille printer could drop the price for a home model for the blind from $2,000 to around $350.
What started as a home-built Lego project for a science fair has morphed into a family-run startup, with mom Malini Banerjee the president and CEO, and dad on the board of directors and serving as Shubham’s chauffeur and chaperone to press events, interviews and business meetings. The seed funding from Intel will permit the Santa Clara family to hire engineers and product designers, allowing Shubham to return his focus to school and easing the financial burden on the Banerjee family; Neil was contemplating dipping into his 401(k) before Intel made its offer. Intel declined to disclose the amount.
“It’s a classic Silicon Valley story, isn’t it?” said Neil Banerjee, who works as director of software operations for Intel. “Everyone else started in a garage, but (Shubham) started at the kitchen table.” The investment also earns Shubham a place in history. He is two years younger than British entrepreneur Nick D’Aloisio, who previously was the world’s youngest venture capital-backed tech entrepreneur . He received an investment for his startup Summly, a news-reading app, in 2011, say business groups and media organizations that track venture investments. Yahoo later bought Summly for a reported $30 million.
Braigo includes software that Shubham created using Intel’s new Edison chip — an inexpensive development platform to power wearable devices, prototypes by early startups and other gadgets built by hobbyists — and a printer that uses various motors and impression tools. Shubham published the code for the software open-source on the web, so other developers can use it, but the family has a patent pending for the printer.
Organizations for the visually impaired welcome the prospect of an affordable Braille printer, which they say could give blind people better access to literature and news and improve Braille literacy rates, which hover around 8.5 percent among the 60,000 blind schoolchildren in the country, says the American Printing House for the Blind.
“There is absolutely a need,” said Gary Mudd, spokesman for the Printing House for the Blind. “In a business situation, that equipment is purchased by the company that employs you. People who want their own, though, just get to pay for it. Being blind is sometimes very expensive.”
All know I am blown away, left in the dust, when I learn about brilliant kids and their apparent mental-composure and clarity of purpose as they set about doing something that has never been done before. Often, that doesn’t matter to them. . they see a need or a possibility in a different direction of what already is. . . somehow, it is clear to them, and it comes about. If only we could bottle that talent and spread it around.
Bravo Shubham. You will enrich so many others. . . improve their lives. May you enjoy the blessing you so richly deserve. Jan)