The Converto-Braille: A Transformative Prototype, c. 1972

Galarneau Converto-Braille, CSTM artifact no. 1987.0272.001

Converto-Braille (c.1972)

In 1972 the first “Converto-Braille” was finally complete and functioning. By that time, it had taken over 10, 000 hours of work to develop the 100, 000 connections required to make this innovation a reality.[1] The machine was essentially a computer linked to an electromechanical typeprinter—a device that was frequently used as an interface for early mainframe computers and could transmit typed messages through telephone relays. Galarneau acquired these telephone relays and a collection of other components with the help of Robert Dormer, an electrical engineer with Bell Canada, Ltd., and Jack Reid of the Northern Electric Co., Ltd., two enthusiastic supporters of Galarneau’s work. The teleprinter produced a perforated tape that provided the required memory for the computer, which could scan and translate texts into braille at approximately 100 words per minute.[2]

The device, pictured here, sits on a metal stand. Tape could be fed through the rollers near the top front of the grey-painted rectangular metal base. The machine was powered by a black cylindrical “Superior Electric” motor to the right-hand side of the machine. Above and towards the back end of the machine were a series of smaller cylinders through which the perforated tape was fed across a larger metal Northern Electric cylinder to the left of the device. This series of cylinders were, in turn, attached to a complicated set of relay boards at the rear of the machine.[3]

[1] Cypihot-Galarnea Services, “SCBCG: 1970-1990 Converto Braille” (pamphlet), Canadian Science and Technology Library and Archives, Ottawa, ON.

[2] Heather Buchan, “Computerized Braille,” The Mirrored Spectrum: A Collection of Reports for the Non-Scientist and Non-Engineer about achievements in Canadian Science and Technology, (Ottawa, ON: Information Canada, 1973), 10-11.

[3] Galarneau Computerized Braille Printer (1972), artifact no. 1987.0272.001, Collections Supplementary Report, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa ON, Canada.