Photo: Alexander Galperin
In April 2016, a young Russian man, Fedor Belomoev, announced on his Facebook page that he had invented a device for deaf-blind people, which helps them to communicate. The amazing thing, named The Braille Glove by its inventor, has no analogues in the world. However, investors are not queueing up to fund the project. Why? We decided to learn about this and other details of the invention, from Fedor.
MOSKVAER: Fedor, in your post on Facebook you said: “…the circumstances weighted in such a way I hadn’t expected myself. I did invent a special device for the deafblind…”. Tell us more about how it happened. Have you invented anything before? What’s your background, and what events lead to this invention?
At some point, the problems of this world started being important to me. I began systematically helping people – I helped with the food on holidays in orphanages, I performed there as Santa Claus or tried to find other volunteers.
Once, on one social network, I read an article about the life of deafblind people, and the difficulties they face. I was surprised that the deafblind person’s life expectancy is, on average, about 35, simply because his brain does not develop. He does not get the information he needs and dies earlier. Imagine.
At the end of the article, it stated that the average cost of the cheapest electronic device by which a blind and deaf person can read and write, is about 150 thousand rubles. As an entrepreneur, I felt that this price is obviously overestimated. I began to study the issue in more detail. I found out that this device is not only expensive, but also not very convenient: it is connected to a computer, which makes it immobile.
I got the idea to create a cheaper alternative of that device. I began studying the subject, visited some research institutes, collected some books and talked with some engineers (I myself am not an engineer), each of whom made their remarks about my ideas.
So, poring over the situation, I realized that the patent restrictions and inexpensive technical alternatives do not provide a sufficient reduction in price–all the ideas in practice proved to be difficult to implement, and manufacturing companies gave reckless estimates.
Then I just started from the beginning. All the information I had along with the limitations in tools and finances, mixed with a strong desire to change something gave birth to the idea of the device which we are now talking about. As a result, it is able to solve the issue not only of deaf-blind, but also blind, dumb, and people with impaired diction, such as stroke victims.
Do I understand correctly, that there is nothing like this on the market at the moment?
FEDOR: Yes, that’s right, nothing of the kind. There is no other communicator for deafblind people that allows them to converse with others.
This innovation, in theory, should attract the attention of the relevant investment funds and institutions from around the world.
FEDOR: Yes it should, but it doesn’t, at least in Russia. I write to these funds, they discuss the project with their experts and ultimately refuse for different reasons: be it my team, who they don’t find convincing enough, or that the sales perspectives are questionable, or I just didn’t put a comma somewhere so I have to redo everything again and wait another month. So, I decided to try to raise funds for production by myself and then donate the Gloves to those who need them.
In April, I briefly presented the project at the international scientific-practical conference “Information technologies and high-tech means of rehabilitation for blind and visually impaired people”, where blind and deaf-blind people tried it in action.
A little later, I showed the device at the international education show in Moscow (within the framework of inclusive education programs, such a device is very necessary). Just imagine that a blind and deaf pupil or student would be able to listen to lectures and take notes.
Has the invention already been patented?
FEDOR: Yes, I have applied for a patent in Russia. It would be nice, of course, to do more, and get an international patent, but there I would need sponsors or investors–the amount needed for all of these things is almost 2 million rubles. Although it should be paid for in two years, it’s still a lot.
Tell us a little more about what the device consists of and about the algorithm of its work mechanism.
FEDOR: The shape of this device is a glove, and it works on the principle of the Louis Braille font. It consists of a simple glove of supplex on which contact zones, which must be clamped to send words, are stitched with a conductive thread. On the fingertips, it has small vibro motors that are required for receiving information. Oh, and the control unit itself, which is no bigger than a wristwatch.
If you do not go to deep into the technical details, and try to convey the principle of operation of the mechanism in simple words, the essence is this: a blind and deaf person with knowledge of Braille, wearing a glove, may communicate freely with any person who is able to see and hear. A mobile phone (smartphone) wirelessly connects to the device with special software (we created an application). A non-impaired person addresses their deafblind friend by speaking into the microphone (can be external), then a program installed on his phone recognizes the speech and literally translates it to Braille language using tangible signals. After hearing, the blind and deaf person can answer. To do this, he needs to start typing words on the palm with his fingers. The words are typed on the principle of Braille. The program then analyzes typed words and immediately synthesizes them into speech.
How much money and whose support do you need to run a full-fledged production line?
FEDOR: We need informational and financial support from private investors, foundations and government agencies. To produce a minimum batch of devices we would need four million rubles. I would like to draw attention to one important thing: innovation funds are interested in investing in projects that will bring good returns, which are commercially viable. This is a social project. There are not many totally deaf-blind people, nor blind, who are in need of reading with Gloves so desperately, especially if there are still paper books. All these arguments are clear to me.
You are collecting money for the launch of production through crowdfunding. Have any private investors started any major initiatives, may be you’ve appealed to someone?
FEDOR: Yes, there are people I know who have invested in the project, but this is a minor amount. We need a grown-up, mature, experienced person who is generally not indifferent to the issue. Who will support the project not only financially, but also on the communicative level, because we need to make the device known and popular among those who need it. After all, our task is not only to produce it, but also to teach people how to use it.
I recently wrote a letter to Megafon, the mobile operator (I’ve seen, they support some social projects, and this one is directly related to their core business) and I really hope that they will pay attention to my idea, because it directly affects communication—through mobile communications to the world of the deaf-blind.
How many devices do you plan to make as a start? How will you establish this process in the future?
FEDOR: The money that we collect from the crowdfunding campaign is going to be spent on the production of some gloves for donation to the needy through libraries and schools for the blind.
With the help of the investors, we plan to make a batch of 1000 devices—it is the minimum quantity, in which the cost of the device will stay manageable–no more than 15 thousand rubles. I will look for people who care and who are ready to help. You cannot imagine how lucky I am to meet them! They suddenly appear, write, ask and contribute. Here you are, for example, you’ve found me and just texted!
I would be very glad if this article helped you in promoting the project. Your idea is great! Tell me, do you plan to continue developing your inventive potential? If so, how, and in what areas.
FEDOR: I would like to continue working in this area to help people deprived of the opportunity to be active in some areas of life, to give them a reason to be happy. I still have two more prototypes, but no time yet to deal with them and conduct further prototyping. Now I spend all my time trying to start the production of the Glove, to convince the public that it is necessary and important.
My other inventions are also aimed at solving the ailments of blind people. Since I’ve only been testing them, with no application for a patent sent, I will not talk much about them– just in a nutshell.
One device is a tablet on which a textured image that you can touch is formed. Something like our iPad, only tactile.
The second invention lies in the sphere of sensory substitution, and allows you to transmit visual images through other forms. The human brain is a unique thing, and sometimes it is possible to see things not only with your eyes. I can’t say any more at the moment.
For now, I just need to free up time, pass the project of The Braille Glove to those who know how to produce it, understand the commercialization of such projects on the market, and are fully aware of the importance of the concept of “complementarity”.
Well, Fedor, thank you for the interview and good luck with the current project and all the upcoming ones! We will follow your news.
To help the project, please, click the following link: planeta.ru/campaigns/
The Braille Glove’s website: 4blind.com