The design has always been bridging the gap between the developed and underdeveloped societies across the globe. And technology in specific has shaped up the future of a lot of physically challenged people through the inventions of wheelchairs, leg amputations, mechanical arms etc., but the blind has always been sidelined. And this is what moved Sumit Dagar to invent the world’s first Braille smartphone.
His calling came to him as a blessing as a disguise when he went for his post graduation degree in Interactive Design from the widely appreciated National Institute of Design. “NID greatly shaped and groomed my thinking process. As a designer, I learned to unlearn”, reminisces Sumit. He still remembers how the institution helped change his mental state — where experimenting and failing were encouraged and brought forward. As we were curious enough to understand the gravity of how Sumit arrived at the decision to build a Braille smartphone, his humble responses left us astonished. “Design is always regarded and seen as a luxury in modern-day societies, though the proposal for it being a proficient tool for solving problems for the needful has always been sidelined”, scorns Sumit. This thought, he believes, domesticated his cogitation as a passionate designer and helped him restrain from mainstream innovations. On being asked about how the projected smartphone works and its operating platform, Sumit, however, declined to disclose a lot of information as it is still in a nascent stage of development but asserted that its user-centred design approach has led to very smart and usable innovations in the context of the user. Though touted to become a very innovative breakthrough, this project will be conceived in two stages — deployment of GPS enabled phone and deployment of a final version with the complete touchable display. Sumit reiterates how the current offerings are largely retrofitted solutions for the blind, where the functionalities are kept at a minimum and design is not one of the primary motivations. “This makes these offerings a complete ill-fit for today’s ‘technoptimist’ era, and hence keeps the large proportion of blind people aloof from the technological advancements. Reams of these products are audio enabled products which enable one-way communication, making the products highly unproductive in developing a nation like ours”, exclaims Dagar. This provoked Sumit to develop a phone from scratch, which is not only a voice-enabled device but also touch responsive, which would enable visually impaired people to have a faster mode of communication. His innovation will work with a simple framework of a screen technology that will use pixels to vary the height, rather than colour. Thus, a high-resolution screen will be capable of conveying Braille texts, various shapes, figures and most likely maps as well.
Currently, the project is in its first stage of developing a product, for which Sumit and his team have incessantly been testing prototypes with visually challenged people. The team is now confident of cloaking in some financial help from various government and business institutions as they have a dedicated team and a business plan already in place. Sumit points out how making the phone ‘affordable’ and locally available is the crux of the whole project. He is also spearheading an assistive technology group, with the intention of designing products for the disabled. While conversing about his favourite pieces of technology, Sumit considers the Nokia 1100 as the simple innovation, Jawbone Jambox as the most sensible and the Google Glass as the upcoming one. An iPhone, iPad, Macbook,iMac, and Sony RX100 are the gadgets he embraces for his daily nitty-gritty. On top of all this Sumit is also an avid filmmaker, which is amongst the other hidden talents that he doesn’t wish to embrace. At least not yet.