Shubham Banerjee wasn’t looking to invent a breakthrough technology when he started tinkering with a LEGO robotics set last year—the then-12-year-old was just trying to build a science fair project. But Banerjee’s LEGO Braille printer is a potential game changer for the blind community; while most printers cost around $2,000, Banerjee has reduced that price tag to a mere $200.
According to Smithsonian, Banerjee stumbled upon some unsettling statistics just as he was starting to brainstorm project ideas, learning that fewer that 10 percent of 1.3 million blind Americans can read Braille, and that for many, Braille materials are simply inaccessible. Banerjee decided to try to build a simple but functional Braille printer, and spent weeks tinkering with his LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit—an advanced LEGO kit usually used to build anthropomorphic robot toys.
When he presented the finished printer at the 2014 Synopsis Science Fair for students in Santa Clara, Calif., he not only took home the top prize, but the attention of Henry Wedler, a PhD candidate in organic chemistry at the University of California, Davis. Wedler, who was born blind, was extremely impressed by Banerjee’s project, and decided to try to help him market it.
“Inventors have been attempting to do what Shubham has done with Braille embossers for many years," Wedler told Smithsonian. "Sometimes, it takes a young, fresh imagination and a will of iron to be truly innovative. This is the energy and quality that Shubham’s knowledge and passion as an inventor bring to Silicon Valley.”
Wedler is now an advisor to Banerjee’s new company, Braigo Labs, which is a portmanteau of the words “Braille” and “LEGO.” Banerjee, who also received funding from Intel Capital, is still working on further developing the printer, but hopes to make it commercially available soon. When he’s not tinkering with the Braigo printer, Banerjee spends his time playing football and navigating the challenges of the ninth grade. When asked whether his friends see him differently now that he’s an inventor with his own company, Banerjee replied, “They’re pretty chill.”