Carnegie Mellon University TechBridgeWorld
Automated Braille Writing Tutor: Seeking to improve  literacy among visually impaired youth

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Version 1

Our Automated Braille Writing Tutor project began in Spring 2006 with the work of Nidhi Kalra and Tom Lauwers who were Ph.D. students in the Robotics Institute at the time. Several Carnegie Mellon faculty members advised the students including M. Bernardine Dias, Manuela Veloso, Jack Mostow and Illah Nourbakhsh. Nidhi and Tom conducted their projects through TechBridgeWorld's V-Unit - an independent study opportunity for graduate students to pursue non-traditional research.

Photo of student researcher developing braille tutor.
Photo of first version of braille tutor hardware.
Mathru students explore the braille tutor.

The initial field study was possible through our collaboration with the Mathru School for the Blind near Bangalore, India. Initial tests were also carried out with volunteers from the Visually Impaired Pittsburgh Area Computer Enthusiasts. Nidhi implemented the field study during a 6 week stay at the school in Summer 2006. From the very beginning of the project the researchers considered the context in which the tutor would be utilized. They planned for the tutor to be used in a classroom environment where teachers would be able to assist the students in learning to use the tutor. They set up the tutor's connection to the computer so that it would be as clear as possible for visually-impaired instructors at the school. They designed the hardware based on the traditional slate and stylus used at the school to teach braille. We believe this field study was successful as a direct result of prior research and discussions of the context in which the tutor could be used and the knowledge gained on-site with teachers and students.

The field study explored the feasibility of the tutor in a real educational setting with visually impaired students and teachers. The teachers and students were highly enthusiastic about the project and provided valuable suggestions for future improvements. Nidhi documented her experiences at the Mathru School through a blog. Click here to read her stories.

Photo of four students at the Mathru School trying out the braille tutor.
Photo of an instructor assisting a young student use the braille tutor at the Mathru School.
Photo of teachers at the Mathru School checking out the braille tutor.

Publications and Conference Participation

“A Braille Writing Tutor to Combat Illiteracy in Developing Communities” by N. Kalra, T. Lauwers, and M.B. Dias. Presented at the Artificial Intelligence in ICT for Development Workshop, Twentieth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), held in Hyderabad, India, January, 2007.

Media Articles

"The Many Faces of Carnegie Mellon: Dr. M. Bernardine Dias and Ms. Nidhi Kalra,"
by Carolyn Grundy, Andrew Carnegie Society News, Fall 2006

"Automated tutor for reading and writing Braille"
by Staff Reporter, The Hindu, September 14, 2006


  • Nidhi Kalra, Robotics Institute Ph.D. Graduate, Project Lead and Primary Software Researcher
  • Tom Lauwers, Robotics Institute Ph.D. Student, Primary Hardware Researcher
  • M. Bernardine Dias, Robotics Institute Research Scientist, TechBridgeWorld Founder & Director, V-Unit Coordinator, Project Advisor
  • Manuela Veloso, Computer Science Professor, V-Unit Coordinator, Project Advisor
  • Jack Mostow, Robotics Institute Research Professor, Project Advisor
  • Illah Nourbakhsh, Robotics Institute Associate Professor, Project Advisor
  • Gubbi Muktha, Mathru Trustee
  • Rana Nanjappa, Asha Coordinator
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