London-based OwnFone has created the world’s first customisable Braille handset to give visually impaired people more independence and confidence with mobile devices.
The company uses 3D printing to add personalised buttons to the front of the phone for specific contacts.
The OwnFone phone builder automatically converts contact names on buttons into braille.
This technology can also be used to create textures and guide buttons for partially sighted or elderly people who can’t read Braille.
OwnFone launched the world’s first custom printed mobile phone in 2012, and last year it released a simple handset for four- to nine-year-olds.
The OwnFone Braille device is based on the simple design of these two previous devices, and costs £60.
It is currently only available in the UK, but the company’s founder Tom Sunderland is planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign to sell it internationally.
Users can design and order their OwnFone from the firm’s website, and see what their contact names will look like as Braille buttons.
Braille buttons complement the word and image buttons already available from OwnFone.
Although other Braille handsets have been designed, Sunderland told the MailOnline his product is the world’s first Braille Phone to go on sale, and is patent pending.
In April last year, Indian designer Sumit Dagar unveiled a concept design for a phone built using a grid of pins that move up and down to create the shapes of words and image.
His design uses shape-memory alloy technology to expand and contract to its original shape after use.
‘There’s been many concept designs for Braille phones over the years, but all of them have so far remained as concepts,’ Sunderland told MailOnline.
‘To develop any of these designs would be very expensive and the market for Braille phones is relatively small compared with mainstream markets.
‘3D printing provides a fast and affordable way to overcome this barrier.’
The OwnFone Braille Phone has also been tested by blind customers including seven-year-old Will who has been blind since birth.
Will’s mother said: ‘Will’s never been confident enough for us to leave him at a friend’s house or a birthday party.
‘But since he’s had his phone he’s asked to be left at his friend’s party and told us we could leave. It’s a resounding success and he felt very grown up and very pleased with himself.’
OwnFone’s Braille Phone is available in colours and patterns, while most braille phone concept designs are white or grey.
This might seem counter intuitive but Tom continued: ‘Just because someone can’t see doesn’t mean they don’t want something that looks great.
‘Will was determined to have a Black Skulls design’.