How six scrappy young inventors built a breakthrough text-to-Braille translator device

| Tracy Ith

The six members of Team Tactile stand side by side

A group of engineering students knew exactly what they wanted to build at a student technology competition, and they had just 15 hours to do it.

As they worked furiously alongside other MIT students, the young women hit a series of snags. They had to wait in long lines to use the 3D printer and laser cutter they needed to shape various parts for their project. Some of the supplies their design called for had already been snatched up by others.

Bonnie Wang, an engineering and materials science major, recalls it as “one of the most hectic 15 hours of my life, ever.”

They cobbled together their prototype with barely 15 minutes left. It was clunky, with taped corners, an array of wires sprouting from the middle and gaps they’d hastily filled with cardboard — but it worked.

In the wee hours of that morning in February, they were awarded a first-place trophy for their invention: a device that could turn printed words into Braille. It was a moment that left them even more energized to create something that could help blind people around the globe — and to cement their place in the growing subset of the world’s inventors who are women.

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