Blitab is a Braille device for visually impaired people

Meet Blitab, an Android tablet combined with a smart Braille surface. It’s one of the most affordable Braille devices out there and could change the way visually impaired people use computing devices. The company is participating in TechCrunch’s Hardware Battlefield at CES.

The devices for this niche market are really disappointing. There are specialized devices called Braille notetakers that are clunky, not that powerful and cost up to $5,000. They even run an outdated version of Windows CE. These might be fine, as some health insurance companies will help you pay for these devices. But what if you live in a country without proper health insurance to pay for such a device? That’s where Blitab shines; it’s only going to cost $500.

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In addition to being a cheaper version of an existing product, it’s a much more useful device. At heart, it’s an Android tablet, so it has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and can run all sorts of Android apps. It also supports all the cool accessibility features in Android, such as voice over.

The magic happens when you press the button on the side of the device. The top half of the device turns into a Braille reader. You can load a document, a web page — anything really — and then read the content using Braille.

“We’re not excluding voice over; we combine both of these things,” co-founder and CEO Kristina Tsvetanova told me. “We offer both the tactile experience and the voice over experience.”

Behind the scenes, the Blitab tablet uses small bubbles to change the state of these bubbles in very little time. The company is thinking about more powerful features. For instance, you could think about drawing a Google Maps view on the top half of the device so that you can feel the map.

The company started working on the Blitab device in 2014, and the team of 10 plans to ship the tablet in six months with pre-orders starting later this month.

So far, 3,000 visually impaired people have played with the Blitab and the feedback has been great, the company says. Even the most skeptical users changed their mind after trying the tablet for a while.

Many tech entrepreneurs start a company because they find a business opportunity. A consumer app will have a huge potential market and could make you rich in no time. And yet, it has never been easier to build a cheap gadget that can have a significant impact for a small group of people. For this reason alone, there should be more startups like Blitab.