>From: "Steve Pattison" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2002 07:42:26 +1000
>Subject: Fwd: New braille displays and more at lower costs
>To: gui-talk@NFBnet.org (Multiple recipients of NFBnet GUI-TALK Mailing List)
>From: Lynne King email@example.com
>COMPANY SEES MEMS AS SOLUTION FOR AFFORDABLE BRAILLE DISPLAYS
>By Allen Bernard Small Times Correspondent
>April 9, 2002 Development of a MEMS-based Braille display system may
>prove to be a miracle worker for the thousands of blind people unable
>to access information via computer.
>In fact, Orbital Research Inc.'s computer display could actually
>raise literacy rates among the blind by making Braille displays more
>"At a much reduced price, that would be a huge advantage," said Jay
>Leventhal, editor of
>[ST_braille_inside.jpg] Orbital Research Inc. uses pneumatic MEMS
>microvalves that inflate balloons of air to form the points of Braille
>characters. The result: A refreshable Braille display system.
>the American Foundation for the Blind's magazine, AccessWorld.
>"Too many people have to opt for just speech output. This would mean
>the Braille device could compete with the speech device, and that would
>By packaging an existing technology, electrostatically actuated MEMS
>microvalves, that has been around since the 1980s in a new, more
>compact way, Orbital expects to lower the price of a Braille display
>from today's $70-per-cell cost to somewhere around $5 to $10 per cell,
>according to Fred Lisy, corporate vice president of Cleveland-based
>Orbital. A cell is the equivalent of one character, letter or number.
>At the same time, the company expects to dramatically improve the
>reliability, usability and functionality of the devices.
>"Microvalves have been around for a while," Lisy said. "The problem is
>when it came to packaging these devices in a reliable way, that's where
>things fell apart."
>The reduction in cost would allow an average person to purchase a
>display that has many more rows and columns than today's displays, and
>may eventually display graphics. And, as a side benefit, by increasing
>literacy rates, Orbital would also be increasing the market for its
>"It's a big advantage to have Braille," said Leventhal, who, on recent
>trip to Los Angeles had to decide what reading material to take by
>literally weighing it. If a refreshable display were available that
>could be used with his laptop, for example, he would no longer have to
>go through this exercise every time he went out of town. "(Blind
>people) would use more Braille if they could."
>At $5,000- to $7,000 each, most displays are well out of reach of the
>average blind person. Even less functional Braille PDAs, which show
>five to 10 words at a time, run between $3,500 and $5,000 and are
>useless for surfing the Internet or adding numbers on a spreadsheet.
>"Current technology is almost like closed captioning," said Marlene
>Bourne, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR, "you really only get one
>line at a time. Theirs seems to be a real intriguing advancement in
>concept. From what I understand, it can go beyond computers to being
>used in cell phones, pagers; any type of electronic communications
>Existing displays depend on little electric relays pushing little
>plastic pins against an elastic membrane to form the Braille character.
>What Orbital has done is replace the piezoelectric actuators with
>pneumatic MEMS microvalves that inflate bladders, or balloons, of air
>to form the points of the Braille characters.
>This gives Orbital's devices some distinct advantages over today's
>displays. They can work at any angle, in contrast to piezo displays,
>which make use of gravity to drop the pins back into place; they are
>more power efficient, and, because up to 16 microvalves can be packed
>into a space the size of a microchip, more rows and columns can be put
>in one display. The next goal is getting 24 valves into this same
>Although the worldwide market is only about $20 million per year,
>Orbital believes it can capture almost 5 percent of it within 24 months
>of shipping product. To do this, the company is looking to partner with
>one or all of the five California-based Braille display manufacturers
>that control about 50 percent of the market. If the company can
>convince these manufacturers to use its technology it will make its
>numbers. If not, it still expects to capture most of the market over
>But Orbital is still a startup, even though it's been around for 10
>years. While not quite standing around with its hand out, Orbital has
>been depending on government funding, primarily through the Small
>Business Innovative Research program and the U.S. Air Force, to stay
>alive while it develops uses for its new MEMS packaging technology. If
>the Braille display device takes off, the company will have a revenue
>stream around which it can continue to develop the other eight or so
>products it has in the pipeline.
>"We are R&D. That's our strength. To make the thing successful we don't
>have the wherewithal internally for commercializing, for setting up the
>small scale manufacturing to create these Braille modules," Lisy said.
>Lisy is also in talks with a bank and Diebold Inc., which
>manufactures automatic teller machines, about using Orbital's display
>technology in a new generation of ATM machines.
>But, in order to cash in on its newly minted Braille display patent,
>which was issued in March, Orbital is in the process of licensing its
>MEMS microvalve technology for which it has found at least three other
>uses to a spin off company called iACTIV.
>In this way, Orbital can attract VC money for its MEMS work while
>protecting its other discoveries, which will still be owned by Orbital
>Research. It's a paper division, but an important one if the company
>wants to capitalize on 10 years of research.
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