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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

NewHaptics works to Commercialize Multiline Braille and Graphical Tactile Display, Nicknamed the “Holy Braille” Project


When Alex Russamano began to study microfluidics he never expected his research would be so important to so many people. Then Alex met Sile O’Modhrain, Associate Professor of Performing arts Technology and his life and research became mission driven to improve the lives of blind or visually impaired people. Alex realized that he could create Microfluidic chips that could raise pins, creating a breakthrough in packaging for braille devices. Alex started working with Sile and Brent Gillespie, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Robotics to create a full sized braille tablet, initially named the “Holy Braille” project. After some initial research and customer discovery, a startup company; NewHaptics, was founded by Alex, Sile and Brent with the mission to  unlock the power of the internet for the blind.

The Company’s patented tactile display technology enables the creation of a compact, portable, and large-area tactile “screen.” Unlike the state-of-the-art technology for existing refreshable braille displays, NewHaptics’ technology can scale up to a large-area display supporting a grid of thousands of small tightly-packed tactile dots. Like pixels on a computer screen, the dots can be selectively raised and lowered to render multiple lines of braille and tactile graphics in real time on the surface of the device. This novel approach solves major hurdles related to size and cost that have prevented the scaling up of existing technology to support a multiline braille display device. The Company’s tactile display components are batch manufactured in a process similar to how computer chips are made; thousands of tiny tactile dots are fabricated together in a single component. A small set of components, rather than thousands of individual parts, support enough dots for a large-area tactile screen in a low-profile form factor.

The roots of the “Holy Braille Project” go back to early funding from the National Science Foundation so it was logical that the NewHaptics team would look to “America’s Seed Fund” for Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Funding. The team also applied for funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Both projects were awarded leading to major advancements in the technology. Since the success of both grants, NewHaptics has received follow-on funding from both organizations ensuring that the company will be able to successfully commercialize this technology.

Since its founding in 2018, NewHaptics has worked closely with Innovation Partnerships to file patents, and develop its company and business model. Today NewHaptics has an office in Ann Arbor that houses a small development team led by P.h.D. Alex Russamano.

About NewHaptics

NewHaptics was founded with the goal of improving the lives of people who are blind by enabling true digital interaction using the sense of touch. The company has its roots in the “Holy Braille Project” funded by the National Science Foundation that focused on developing novel technology to enable the creation of a large-area tactile display for the blind. Since spinning off from the University of Michigan in 2018, NewHaptics has raised funding from federal and state grants to support research and development.