Braille terminal
FPGA enhances reliability and reduces cost
Technologies used


Industrial sector (PRODCOM code)
    30 Computer peripherals
ALVA, a 14-year old, 40 employees-company, develops, produces and sells PC products for Braille and speech oriented machines for blind and visually impaired users. The major product is a Braille terminal, which connects the PC and the printer. This terminal translates the output on the computer display into Braille characters, which can be read on a Braille printer output device. ALVA is for 13 years active in the Braille market. The products are defined, developed, and sold by ALVA. ALVA does have all the skills needed for this process. The knowledge of the needs of the blind user is present in the organisation. The technology knowledge needed for development and production is present is the R&D department. Market knowledge and the sales outlet are present in the sales organisation. Last but not least ALVA installs and maintains the equipment in field, which gives a feedback from the end users of the products. Before the experiment, the electronic technology used in the company was based on standard components on printed circuit boards. The requirements of miniaturisation and low power consumption for portability reasons were the main reason for the AE. The main objective of the experiment was to improve the reliability, improve features and functionality, and improve the performance of the communication ports so that they could communicate with modern personal computers. Price performance ratio needed to be increased so that an increased share of a stable market could be achieved. The existing ALVA Braille terminal communicates in a relatively simple way through the Centronics port of a PC. In order to develop a highly advanced and competitive terminal two FPGAs have been designed. The components have been implemented with an enhanced hardware communication protocol for communication between the parallel port of a PC and the ALVA Braille terminal. Therefore a more reliable ALVA Braille Terminal (ABT4) prototype has been designed, manufactured and tested. The previous version of the ALVA Braille Terminal (ABT3) was not sophisticated enough to function smoothly with the latest PC's, which have increased speed of the printer port. As it proved impossible to increase the communication speed of the ABT3 terminal with the current microprocessor technology, ALVA adapted new FPGA techniques and a highly sophisticated method of specifying and designing electronics. After a period of nine months the application experiment was finished and consequently approved prototypes were released. The total cost of the experiment was 60 k of which 31 K was the FUSE investment. Further costs to get the product to market were approximately 100 k, which included redesign prior to production. The overall payback period of the investment is anticipated to be 2 years with a return on investment of 300% over 6 years of sales. The main lessons learned are that intensive support by a subcontractor pays off, the effort put in the specification phase will paid back in the design phase and it is recommended to make the design of the FPGA synchronous. It was also realised that technical resources can adapt to FPGA design quite easily.
Leemansweg 51
8627 BX Arnhem

Detailed information

You can also benefit from microelectronics

FPGA technology provided ALVA B.V. with the means of improving its products and enhancing its market position. You can also achieve significant benefits by acquiring the right microelectronics technology and utilising it in your product or manufacturing process. You can get help from FUSE to realise this.

FUSE is a technology transfer programme, funded by the European Commission to stimulate the wider use of microelectronics technologies by European enterprises to increase their competitiveness and enhance their economic growth. The demonstrator described here is one of many examples in the public FUSE portfolio covering the whole spectrum of microelectronics technologies and spanning a wide range of applications and industry sectors.

FUSE provides you with:

  • Best practice in acquiring specific microelectronics technologies and conducting full development projects through the FUSE portfolio of real life demonstrator documents.
  • Local training and expert support to plan your innovation realistically and help you conduct your project successfully.

Further information and support relating to this and other demonstrators can be obtained from the addresses below.

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