Translating digital content into Braille.
Blitab has developed a tablet that translates digital content into Braille. The start-up has won 11 international awards in just a few months. Co-founder Kristina Tsvetanova discusses the challenges of launching a social start-up.
TECHNOLOGIST How did you come up with the idea?
KRISTINA TSVETANOVA It all began when I was studying industrial engineering at the University of Sofia. A blind student asked me for help to register for classes because he couldn’t do it by himself. I was shocked. I went home and did some research. Then I realised that the technology boom over the past few years, with the advent of the Internet and smartphones, had not benefited everyone.
TECHNOLOGIST What are the current problems with Braille and the Internet?
KRISTINA TSVETANOVA Braille is an excellent system that makes it possible for the visually impaired to read. Unfortunately, existing devices that convert text into Braille cost thousands of euros and are hard to use. For example, they only display one line of text at a time. Their technology was invented 40 years ago and hasn’t changed since.
TECHNOLOGIST More and more smartphones and tablets feature a voice function so that the visually impaired can use the web. Isn’t that enough?
KRISTINA TSVETANOVA Some people say that Braille is dying because of this voice function. But the system has several problems. How can we guarantee a blind person’s privacy if their smartphone reads messages or describes what they’re doing out loud? And how can they read a whole book with this voice function? You might be able to put up with that robotic voice for a few lines, but that’s it.
TECHNOLOGIST How is your tablet different from other existing products?
KRISTINA TSVETANOVA The Blitab converts any document into Braille. You can plug in a USB flash drive or connect to Wi-Fi. The tablet surface displays little dots, which we call “tixels” (from “tactile pixels”). Users can read a full page of text at a time. The tablet can also convert images by triggering dots that present the picture in 3D.
TECHNOLOGIST How much will your product cost?
KRISTINA TSVETANOVA Blitab is expected to be available next year at prices ranging from $200 to $2,500, depending on the country. We can’t charge the same price in Bangladesh and in Germany. For users, it will also depend heavily on the government subsidies available for the visually impaired.
TECHNOLOGIST You left Bulgaria to come to Vienna. Why did you choose Austria?
KRISTINA TSVETANOVA We quickly realised that as a social start-up, Vienna would work for us. The Austrian government grants generous subsidies to social projects, and the Austrian Ministry of Economy was one of our first partners and developers. We were immediately granted €35,000 to launch our start-up. Our first customers were German-speaking schools. The language and geographical location helped us develop closer ties to our customers.
Interview by Clément Bürge