Tablets are taking the world by storm, as they offer both beautiful displays and ease of use. But as aesthetically pleasing as these devices may be, their greatest potential may lie in their touch-based capabilities, which are now being utilized to serve as a key tool for the blind. A team of Stanford engineers is tackling the challenge of converting tablets into devices that could replace expensive specialized Braille writers.

A modern Braille writer looks like a laptop with no monitor and an eight-key keyboard: six to create the character, plus a carriage return and a delete key. In some cases, such devices can cost upwards of $6000.

A team of engineers at Stanford University used a touch-based tablet to create a device that would not only serve the same purpose, but also offer increased functionality — at a fraction of the price.

The key to converting the smooth surface of a touch-based tablet into a Braille typer was to develop a type of keypad in which the keys would find the fingertips, rather than the other way around.

Here's how it works: The user touches eight fingertips to the glass in a desired formation, and the keys orient themselves to the fingers. The user can reset by lifting all eight fingers off the glass and putting them down again.

The device also offers the potential to allow users to write complex equations. In a demo, a member of the team was able to use the tablet to type one of the best-known mathematical formulas in the world, Burgers' Equation, followed by the chemical equation for photosynthesis.

Touchscreens offer a significant advantage over standard Braille writers, in that they're customizable. They can accommodate a wider range of finger sizes, for example.

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Related: Researchers are developing a "living Braille" device using electroactive polymers (artificial muscles).