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6dot launches Braille labeler for the blind

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6dot Innovations is launching a portable Braille labeler machine for the blind today. The gadget can quickly print out labels in Braille so that blind people can put labels on prescription drug bottles and other critical things they don’t want to get confused.

A number of Braille labeling devices are already on the market, but those based on the Braille six-dot system are heavy mechanical machines that aren’t really portable. You can’t take them to the pharmacy, for example, said 6dot founder and chief executive Karina Pikhart.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup expects to begin shipping the devices in the next couple of months and has already sold out its first batch of devices in an initial production run. 6dot is seeking to target the 37 million people worldwide who are blind and will expand to serve the 650 million people around the world with disabilities.

The first product is an electro-mechanical machine that can emboss Braille letters into adhesive labels that stick to just about anything. Without of a device like this, much of the world remains indistinguishable to the blind, from the buttons on a microwave touchpad to canned goods or medication bottles, said Pikhart.

“This is what a blind person needs to tell a product apart,” Pikhart said in an interview.

The startup is housed at Startx, Stanford University student startup accelerator. And they’ve launched a Kickstarter fundraising effort.

The battery-powered labeler is a step toward making blind people more independent in their everyday lives, Pikhart said. You can connect a standard keyboard to the device so that people who can see can also type messages on the labels, so that parents can type labels for their blind children.

Pikhart, a first-time entrepreneur, started working on the idea at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a product design class in the fall of 2008. She and two other co-founders — Trevor Shannon and Robert Liebert — met with some members of the Perkins School for the Blind, a school that Helen Keller once attended. They rounded up a team of five contractors and created prototypes. They won several contests, including the MIT Ideas Award, the ASNE Mechanical Innovation Showcase, and Stanford University’s product showcase. That netted them $30,000. Then they raised a round of seed funding and hope to raise another soon.

“Our mission is to give people independence and enable them to do what they want to do,” Pikhart said.

Pikhart said she will know shipment dates in a couple of weeks.

Here is a video of the product in action: