Welcome to part 1 on a series on explaining BrailleNote - a detailed tour of BrailleNote and its operations - for from both blind and sighted perspective. In this article, I'll quickly go over what exactly a BrailleNote and how it looks like.
So, what exactly is BrailleNote? BrailleNote is a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) for blind people. It's a kin to using a smartphone or a pocket computer for blind people. Instead of a screen and a keyboard, BrailleNote uses a special type of input method, called "braille characters," and uses a device called "braille display" to ouput data using braile characters. On most BrailleNotes, a special type of program, called a speech synthesizer is used to speak whatever the user types and reads. Features sets on the BrailleNote is almost the same as any regular pocket PC or a PDA - a word processor, calendar and alarms, contacts manager, email, media player, calculator and so forth. Instead of using graphical menus and gestures, BraileNote uses a suite of programs called KeySoft, which is the user interface of the BrailleNote 9user interface is a set way of allowing people to interact with a computer).
How does blind people type and read on a BrailleNote? On the surface of the device, there are nine keys, arranged like a braille writer. Each of the dots on a braill keyboard has a special value. For instance, the letter "a" can be typed using one dot, while the letter "Q" requires press of five dots. This may seem awkward, but there is a reason why it is designed as such. Each press of a dot or a combination of it, represents a letter or a punctuation, just like a regular computer keyboard would have labels for each key. From left to right, the keys are BACKSPACE, DOT 3, DOT 2, DOT 1, SPACE, DOT 4, DOT 5, DOT 6 and ENTER. We'll come back to how the commands on the BrailleNote works later. Note that there is a BrailleNote with computer-style keyboard.
On most BrailleNote models, there is a front panel with a line of pins. This is so-called braille display. Braille displays works by rasing the pin when there is a dot and lowering when there isn't. This utilizes piasoelectric technology where special crystals located under the display pins move upward when electricity is applied. Above the brialle display are a number of buttons called touch cursor keys that are used to route the cursor to the desired braille cell.
On the back of a BrailleNote, there are numerous connection sockets, just like any computer. There are a number of USB ports, an SD card slot, a port to connect to the monitor and a network (Ethernet) port. Around the sides are power charger port, UsB port for connecting to a computer, and on the left side, an array of audio jacks and a button, power switch and a Reset button.
On the front panel of the unit is a collection of four buttons. These are caled "thumb-keys", which are used to pan, or move the display by specific length or move vertically through a document, a webpage and so forth. In certain situations, these buttons are shortcuts for various tasks, such as exiting out of current prompt, select an item from a list and so forth.
On the software wise, BrailleNote family runs various versions of Windows CE, an operating system from Microsoft that is used on embedded devices such as cameras and cell phones. On top of Windows CE, a collection of programs known as KeySoft runs to provide the way of interacting with the BrailleNote (often shortened to BN). The hardware specs are just like any high-end PDA's such as Freescale i.MX31 processor at 532 MHz, 256 MB or RAM and 8 GB of flash storage, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and internal microphone for recording memos.
More to come later...