Tactile develops technology that converts printed text to Braille. The low-cost, portable handheld device is designed to help the visually impaired increase access to real-time text around them, such as on printed menus, flyers, mail and bills.
Friends since their freshmen year, Chandani Doshi ‘17, Grace Li ‘17, Jessica Shi ‘17, Chen Wang ‘17, and Charlene Xia ‘17, came up with the idea to make something Braille as part of MakeMIT 2016, the annual hardware hackathon run by the student organization TechX. Their concept, called Tactile, was awarded first place and a sponsorship from Microsoft.
Over the next few months, the team began looking for funding in earnest and started developing a more robust prototype, working out of the Lab for Engineering Materials (Department of Materials Science and Engineering), and the Cypress Engineering Design Studio (Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).
They made the finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition, and filed a patent for their device through the Microsoft #MakeWhatsNext Patent Program. Additional support from the IDEAS Global Challenge and the Sandbox Innovation Fund Program helped Tactile move forward on their idea-to-impact journey. Along the way, the teammates also added fellow engineer Tania Yu ’17 as a sixth member.
In spring 2017, the team was awarded the $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize and began working with the Venture Mentoring Service and the BU Law Clinic to set up Tactile as a venture. In June, all six members graduated from MIT, earning their bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and materials science.
In November, Tactile entered the MIT $100K Pitch Competition and walked away with the $5,000 top prize. They are currently beta testing the product in the Boston area and plan to use the prize money to refine and streamline their prototype and make the device even smaller.