AN AFFORDABLE BRAILLE AND TACTILE GRAPHIC JET PRINTER
In 2010 the founder of Central European Research Centre (CERC), Gabor Hetyey, was working in the publishing/media industry when he came up with an innovative concept for a mechanical advertis ing board. He was so convinced of the feas ibility of the idea that he set about looking for partners with expertise in powder manipulation so that he could investigate further the use of powdered ink printing on an e lectrostatic surface. CERC was born from this association around the Spabrink project, leading to the creation of two specialized departments – a Powder Lab, managed by Albert Kocs is, and the Compu Lab, headed up by Gyula Loos. Today the company has a staff of 6 FTE and 4 part- time in- house consultants with a core bus iness working as subcontractors on R& D projects for industrial clients.
The BrailleJet project and the SME Instrument
As Andras Bulkai, CERC? s technical director, explained, ?The origin of the BrailleJet project, like many new inventions, happened really by accident. We were going to a Spabrink project meeting and we wanted to show prints to the partners, but wondered how to fix the powder during transportation.? This investigation led to the birth of CERC? s first ?own? project ? BrailleJet, a digitally controlled Braille and tactile graphic jet printer ? after the inventors realized the potential of the ir discovery for blind and visually impaired people. The next stage was to build a prototype and to have it validated by the target user groups. In early 2015 CERC se ized the opportunity of submitting an SM E Instrument Phase 1 application to carry out a feas ibility study for the ir innovation.
?The market research we carried out during our feas ibility study was a reve lation,? continued Andras Bulkai. ?We realized by talking to associations representing blind and partially s ighted people and to blind people themse lves that a Braille printer is not really what blind people need.? In fact, many people who are not blind from birth do not actually learn Braille nowadays, particularly with the arrival of speech recognition technologies and re lated IT solutions.
CERC therefore decided to change the ir original plan to print Braille in a fast and cost- effective way to an application capable also of printing images and diagrams in a tactile format. The company rece ived exce llent feedback from the ir end users on the attractiveness and usefulness of tactile images for them.
The business innovation coaching experience
The Budapest- based EEN KAM coordinator Zita Agnes M ajoros provided the company with a list of registered SM E Instrument coaches from Hungary from which the management chose Peter M ogyoros i, a seasoned research commercialization expert with specializations in IPR protection, internationalization and early stage funding. ?Peter he lped us to understand better the importance of the social impact of our project,? says Andras Bulkai, ?which led us to make a fundamental change to the BrailleJet project that we aimed to submit under Phase 2 of the SM E Instrument, i.e. moving from an industrial scale printer to a desktop home printer.? The coach also he lped the management to reflect on the different bus iness mode ls open to them for commercializing the ir research and gave them advice on the different options for protecting the ir IP.
Insights from the coach
Peter M ogyoros i provided 3 days of coaching to the CERC management as part of the ir SM E Instrument Phase 1 project and is currently preparing to continue his work with the company under the ir recently acquired Phase 2 project. ?I cons ider my coaching contribution to the BrailleJet project as useful,? commented Peter M ogyoros i, ?as it he lped the CERC management to appreciate fully the social benefits of the ir project, how it could improve the quality of life of the ir target group and give them access to knowledge. By reformulating the concept behind the project, it became more than an innovative printer for blind and visually impaired people and more about social impact and empowerment for a disadvantaged community.?
The coach also challenged the company about which bus iness mode l to choose as the project moved forward, i.e. deve loping its own in- house production, sales and marketing strengths vs. cooperating with one of the current big players in the printing technology fie ld. Last but not least, the coach discussed with them the ir IP strategy, which would be extreme ly important as they moved into a Phase 2 project with two industrial partners.
A look to the future
CERC now looks forward over the next 24 months to working on its SM E Instrument Phase 2 project, which brings together two UK partners – KW Special Projects Ltd, a high performance engineering solutions provider with expertise in the manufacture of prototypes and custom- made printing devices, and Alchemie Technology Ltd, which provides technical, commercial and bus iness support for the inkjet industry. The project also involves two subcontractors ? a non- profit organization close to the associations representing the blind to he lp with the product specifications and a des ign company to advise on ergonomics, a very important dimens ion for blind people, e.g. e liminating sharp edges. According to CERC? s technical director Andras Bulkai, “We are also looking at other applications for our technology, for example in educational therapy to he lp improve a child? s handwriting or a colouring- in book with tactile borders around the images.”
All going we ll, in the next two to three years CERC will succeed in its ambition to launch BrailleJet on the market as a combined printer- scanner- photocopier for use by blind and visually impaired people in the ir own home