They plan to develop a final prototype over the next two months and launch it in just over two years, as a joint venture with a technology firm based in Buenos Aires.
The device acts as an interface between the user and a computer, says Guido Muchiutti, one of the seven team members and the device’s inventor.
He tells SciDev.Net that the product depicts information from the computer screen and allows the user to control the computer.
The prototype, named Incendilumen, which means ‘turn on the light’ in Latin, has a surface covered with 2,000 tiny rods that rise and fall to represent information such as graphics, buttons and windows.
“Our interface translates data so blind people can feel it by touching what appears on the screen.”
“Our interface translates data so blind people can feel it by touching what appears on the screen, whether icons or words in the Braille system,” says Leonardo Hoet, a professor of from the same university and a member of the team.
Incendilumen was a finalist in the Argentinian technology and design contest Innovar 2012, and won funding from the country’s ministry of science to develop the product further.
Leandro Sereno, president of the Association for People with Visual Disabilities in Argentina, who tested the prototype, is enthusiastic about the device.
“When it is ready it will be fabulous because, with it, blind people can feel what appears on the screen and interact with it,” he tells SciDev.Net. “For instance, we can use different windows, and icons to open them or close them, something currently impossible for us. It would be very useful for surfing the internet.”
Ariel Lutenberg, a researcher in Buenos Aires University’s Faculty of Engineering, praises the device, but says that many challenges remain to ensure this Argentinian innovation succeeds.
“The problem is always going beyond the laboratory and getting a product to sell,” he says. “It means lowering costs, mass production and other complicated issues in countries like Argentina. Things are different in Silicon Valley or Israel, for instance.”
The Incendilumen team hopes to make the tablet as cheap as possible and available to both institutions and individuals.