India hosts 20% of the world’s visually impaired population. Yet the braille literacy found in our country is a mere 1%. Nearly 40 million people in India, including 1.6 million children, are blind or visually impaired. On average a child will take 1 yea to master the basics of braille under constant supervision.
In India, due to a lack of resources and trained teachers, the braille literacy rate stays disappointing. To change this situation the students of BITS Pilani Goa came up with a workable solution. Aman Srivastava, Saif Shaikh, Sanskiriti Dawle, and Dilip Ramesh formed Thinkerbell Labs (formerly Project Mudra) to eradicate the need for an external agent (eg teacher or guide) to learn braille.
They came up with a self-learning device named Annie. The device got its name from Helen Keller's teacher Anne Sullivan. With Annie, blind children can learn to read, type and write in braille accompanied by an auditory guide. The auditory guide comes in different languages and even accents like the UK English and USA English. The voice-led braille learning device was awarded the Great Tech Rocketship by UK Trade and Investment for which they showcased Annie to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Prince William and Kate Middleton learned to type "George" (as in Prince George) in Braille.
The National Institute for the Visually Impaired certified Annie as a competent Braille teaching device. Niti Aayog too has recommended Annie to all the district collectors. They were also nominated for Prime Minister's Excellence Award. hey were also selected for the Reliance Jio GenNext Accelerator. They won the Dell Startup Challenge, winner of the Nasscom social innovation forum grant, Biz Launchpad by the Deshpande Foundation and London Acumen Pitch Event. In 2021, they also won the Dell ElevatED Challenge.
The venture received Rs 3.4 crore in seed funds from Anand Mahindra, LetsVenture, and Indian Angel Network. They acquired additional Rs 1.05 crore from Shark Tank India’s sharks namely, Lenskart founder Peyush Bansal, Emcure executive director Namita Thapar, and Shaadi.com & People Group founder Anupam Mittal. Will Annie be the solution to increasing India’s braille literacy from a mere 1%?