The latest from the Braillists...

Dear Braillist,

I'm writing to tell you about two exciting upcoming Braillists events.

On Saturday 13th December we have a meeting in Bristol demonstrating the fascinating Fowler tactile reading machine and on Friday 16th January a meeting in Dublin to test Bristol Braille's Canute Braille ebook reader prototype, Republic of Ireland. So that we can plan future meetings I would also like to ask you what town you live in and how far would be reasonable for you to travel to get to a Braillists meeting.

If you are in or around Bristol on the morning of Saturday 13th December don't miss the opportunity to experience the Fowler tactile reading machine. Andy King of the M-Shed, the cultural museum on the harbour opposite the Arnolfini, has kindly agreed to demonstrate this innovative machine developed in the 1980s at the University of Bristol. It doesn't produce Braille but is a very interesting tactile display system. I have included an article published in 1983 which describes the machine more fully at the end of this email. We will meet in the foyer of the M-Shed at 10.30am to begin the meeting at 11am and should be finished by around 12.30pm to 1pm. If you would like to attend, please let me know and I'll send you full details including local transport options.

We have been invited to Dublin to hold a meeting to test Bristol Braille's Canute ebook reader prototype. We are still arranging the details but the meeting will be held on Friday 16th January. Please let me know if you are in the area and would like to attend and I shall make sure that you receive full details when we confirm them.

As you may know, Braillists is still a very young organisation and we are developing fast. We are very keen to organise more Braillists meetings in the UK and potentially further afield and it would be very helpful to know where you are situated so that we can pin-point groups local to you. I'd very much appreciate it if you could answer the following two questions.
1. Where do you live? Nearest town or city, country, post-code or zip-code (the first part will do)

2. How far would be reasonable for you to travel to attend a regular Braillists meeting? around every 1-2 months. Please chose from:
  1. I can't physically attend meetings but I may be able to participate through web video
  2. within my local area (neighbourhood, part of the city, etc) [upto 2 miles or 3 kilometers]
  3. within my nearest city or town [upto 10 miles or 15 kilometers]
  4. within my county or region [upto 25 miles or 40 kilometers]
  5. I am happy to travel further afield [over 25 miles or 40 kilometers]
We have yet more exciting plans for the new year and I shall keep you informed of our progress and intentions as we develop.

I hope that all is well and very much hope to meet you at a Braillists meeting soon.

Very best regards,


Steph Tyszka

Article on Fowler Reading Machine from Braille Research Newsletter (No. 14, July 1983 Gill, Clarke & Foulke, p.48)

Reading Machine for the Blind with Tactile Output Disc Unit

T C R S Fowler, Department of Physics, University of Bristol, England

A prototype reading machine has proved readily usable by all the twenty blind and five partially-sighted people who have so far tried it. The machine resembles the Optacon in being a direct-translation machine, and thus being usable for many languages, and for the reproduction of mathematical expressions, etc; character recognition is not involved.

A major difference from the Optacon is in the output unit, in which whole groups of words are displayed at a time in relief around a disc, which provides a continuous tactile output, at a speed controllable over a wide range, to suit the user. Cancellation of previous words occurs just before the setting-up of new words at about "3 o'clock" on the disc. The tactile track around the disc comprises a large number of small studs held by friction in holes drilled by a numerically-controlled machine, the studs being pushed up as required to form the character shapes, and pushed down by an oscillitating cancelling arm operating in a housing over part of the disc. A clutch lever allows the drive to be disengaged, leaving the disc free to be rotated by hand, to re-read previous words. Tests of the frictional system indicate a probable life of about ten million cycles per stud before renewal of the frictional material would be necessary.

A second major difference from the Optacon is that the reading camera is tracked, with motor drive, along the lines of print, typewriting or handwriting being read, leaving the reader free to concentrate on reading the output, two hands being usable for this much of the time, although line and page changing is done manually. The single motor which drives the output disc unit also traverses the reading camera, via a variable-ratio drive which allows the width of the reproduced characters to be varied as required, independently from their height, which is variable by an 11-position magnification selector control on the camera with an overall range of 0.5:1 to 2:1.

The machine is naturally much larger than the Optacon, and the present prototype, with a width of about 34 inches (more than half of which is to provide ample space for large books or periodicals) is not designed to be readily portable, but to have the reading material brought to it.

Ten of the blind people who have so far tried the machine were already users of the Optacon; some of this group expressed a definite preference for the Optacon, but others remarked on advantages of the disc machine. Among the ten not classed as Optacon users was a lady who had returned her Optacon as she was not progressing well with it, and a man who had failed the Optacon apititude test, both of whom were much happier with the disc machine. All 25 users were soon able to read from the disc unit, most within a few minutes of first coming to the machine.

End of article. The full paper can be found here though the formatting may not be very accessible due to having been scanned and automatically translated.
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