Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Ben Foss grew up with dyslexia, a learning disability so severe that his mother had to read books to him throughout his school years, all the way through college. Now 36, he is spearheading the launch of a remarkable device from Intel that can read electronic books aloud to the blind or visually impaired.
The Intel Reader is available today for $1,499.That’s a pretty hefty price, considering that devices like the $259 Amazon Kindle can read books aloud in a robotic voice. But the Intel Reader is based on a lot of research and is designed for the visually impaired, first and foremost.
The reader can read digital files of books aloud. It can also capture images from any printed material and use its text-to-speech technology to read aloud the publication at a variety of listening speeds. It also has a four-inch color display that can render the words being read in large font sizes. The device can read millions of books that have been formatted online for visually-impaired readers, and it comes with a high-resolution camera that can convert printed text to digital text. The reader can then read the words aloud to the user. It can even work with web pages if users first capture the text from a site in a plain text file.
“We want people to experience the independence of being able to read on their own in a public place or anywhere they want to,” said Foss (Left), speaking at a press event on Monday. “A metaphor for this are the ramps that make buildings wheelchair accessible. This reader is like a ramp.”
The paperback-sized device is aimed at 55 million people in the U.S. who have eyesight problems and don’t want to be dependent on others for the pleasure of reading a novel, looking at a restaurant menu, or reading web site pages. It comes with a 5-megapixel digital camera that can be used to snap pictures of book pages. Foss said he was able to scan a 262-page book in a half hour and listen to the first chapter of the book while he was doing it. The device can read text in the DAISY format, plain text, as well as MP3 music files.
The product is a result of years of research in Intel’s Digital Health Group, headed by Louis Burns. The aim is to use technology to improve quality of life. That group has devised technologies that allow patients to be monitored remotely so that they can stay home rather than be monitored in an expensive hospital. Intel hasn’t had the best history with consumer products, but Foss says the world’s biggest chip maker is committed to the project and to the digital health market.
There are ways to use personal computers and digital cameras to do the same thing with text-to-speech software. But the Intel Reader attempts to take the hassle out of the process. Other devices have not been designed directly for the visually impaired, said Dorrie Rush, who is visually impaired herself, and works as the marketing director for the nonprofit Lighthouse International, a foundation that helps the visually impaired. However, the KNFB reader, backed by futurist Ray Kurzweil, has been around for a couple of years and is designed to work with Nokia N82 or N86 cell phones.
Intel has done its homework on the device, said Rush. That’s why it has support from Rush’s group as well as other charitable instituions including the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the International Dyslexia Association, the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, the Council for Exceptional Children, and the National Federation of the Blind. But Foss noted Intel sees the reader as a for-profit business.
Foss noted that the packaging comes with Braille lettering that identifies its manuals. It also has an audio CD that tells users how to use the device. The device does not come with built-in Wi-Fi networking because many school don’t allow web-connected devices in the classroom.
Rush, said that there are 15 million people like herself with impaired eyesight that can’t be corrected with lenses. She held a newspaper four inches from her face and noted she could only
read the name of the paper and nothing else.
Foss said Intel tested its prototypes with more than 400 visually-impaired users, including some with partial eyesight and some who were completely blind. The device can come with an Intel Portable Capture Station (right), which costs extra. The station can be used to capture images of an entire book. It has a plastic guide that holds pages down while the camera can be placed overhead. The button for placing the images is low on the station, since many visually-impaired people are older and don’t have the strength to keep raising their arms to take pictures. ‘The image capture works even if a book is placed upside down.
The device has an Intel Atom microprocessor and two gigabytes of flash memory storage. It runs Linux software and some third-party software for scanning and reading aloud. With a fully charged battery, the device can read aloud for four hours. It can last for days on standby power. It can store about 500,000 pages of text or 600 pages of scanned book pages.
One of the cool features is the ability to change the speed of the voice reading. If you set it to 110 words per minute, it sounds like a normal, if robotic-sounding, voice. At 250 words per minute, it sounds like a chipmunk talking. But Foss said that is the speed he listens at when he is trying to absorb a book quickly. The voice sounds less robotic with headphones, and even less so if it is set to a mode that emphasizes things like exclamation points. In that way, it can be used for informational reading or entertainment.
The Intel Reader will be available through resellers such as CTL, Don Johston, GTSI, Howard Technology Solutions and Human Ware. Foss acknowledged that the price of the device isn’t cheap, but he noted that the device has a lot of custom-designed components, and it is cheaper than devices such as Braille readers,which can cost up to $10,000. Some devices for the blind take a long time to learn, but the Intel Reader takes only a few hours to internalize, Rush said. Since Intel had priced the device fairly high, there is a risk that it will be undercut by eBook readers that can be converted to handle reading aloud.
Foss said there are a variety of sources for the books, including the Gutenberg Project and Book Share. The Internet Archive has 1.6 million books available to be read aloud. That includes out-of-copyright books such as Moby Dick or Alice in Wonderland. He noted that copyright law allows readers to make a copy of a book for their own personal use. On top of that, there is an exception to the law that allows books to be copies for use by disabled people.
The device isn’t perfect at capturing all of the nuances of print. In scanning a newspaper, for instance, it may have trouble with layouts that blend columns of different stories together. It isn’t really made for capturing and translating street signs either.
Over time, the company plans to introduce international versions of the device. Within a week or so, it will launch the device in the United Kingdom where it will use a speaking voice with an English accent. Here’s a video of Foss demonstrating the product.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
DesktopZoom is a zoom/magnify program with lots of options: * Completely portable and doesn't need admin privilege * Zoom an area around the mouse, zoom a fixed window or zoom the entire desktop * Use the mouse inside the zoomed window * Use the mouse wheel or arrow keys to adjust the magnification strength * Translation to Dutch, French, German and Czech * View the entire screen as a thumbnail in the right-bottom corner * Follow the caret & menu items * Change the colors to grey or invers the colors * Show the original screen with a transparency value between 0 en 100% * Show a bigger mouse and/or a crosshair * Use Alt-keys to change the zoomvalue and to enable/disable tracking and the crosshair * Save all the settings to a file for automatic loading * Basic speech support.
Click on the link below:
Friday, August 21, 2009
Designed by Danny Luo, this embossing Braille labelmaker may look like a flashlight, but in reality it's a innovative tool for the sight-impaired: speak into the wide end and the labelmaker will spit out labels with embossed Braille characters
The 25mm x 50mm labels produced by this printer are intended to simplify the identification of similarly shaped or sized objects. Understandably, the designer appears to focus on the potential applications in identifying prescription medication bottles in particular. Being fortunate enough to only require minor vision correction, I can't even imagine how someone could identify medications without sight: the containers are nearly identical and there are plenty of pills that would feel the same. While this concept could save lives by preventing accidental overdoses, the applications seem limitless:
- Which socks go together?
- What's the color of those pants?
- Before you open the bag, are those BBQ-flavored chips or Cheetos?
- What's in that box? Ultra-ribbed or Her Pleasure?
- Which cat is that? Dizzy or Angel?
Monday, July 6, 2009
The Accessible iPhone 3GS
When the iPhone 3GS was announced on the 8th of June there was much excitement in the accessibility world. The new iPhone would sport significant accessibility features, including a built in screen reader, and these features were announced on stage at MacWorld alongside the “regular” features. That’s a great boost for the profile of accessibility in general, which is always a good thing.
Accessibility features for the iPhone 3GS include:
- VoiceOver screen reader localised in 21 different languages.
- Voice Control offering spoken commands, also in 21 different languages.
- Zoom on iPhone lets you magnify the entire screen up to 5 times normal size, and move around to view any portion of the screen close up. All the usual gestures such as pinch, flick, etc. will still work when the screen is zoomed.
- White On Black offers a high contrast reverse video screen display.
- Mono Audio will route both audio channels into both earbuds, for those with hearing problems.
- Speak Auto-text voices the iPhone’s automatic correction and completion options so you don’t have to look away from the keyboard to use them. This can be used with or without VoiceOver and Zoom.
- Assignable Ringtones let you use ringtones as an audible form of Caller ID for selected contacts.
There’s also an Accessible HTML User Guide available but it’s limited so you can only view it using the iPhone - any other web browser is automatically re-routed to the download location for the PDF user guide. I can’t see any reason that Apple would make the HTML guide unusable for the rest of us, but it’s a pity.
So the iPhone 3GS has now been in people’s possession for a little while - what are the reactions?
- Mozilla guru Marco Zehe wrote My first experience using an accessible touch screen device. He was only trying out the iPhone at his local Apple store so he didn’t have a huge amount of time, but I get the impression he was sad to have to leave it there!
- Mike Calvo of Serotek wrote Why is it that Apple always seems to get to the future first? which is more philosophical, but also about his new iPhone.
- Josh de Lioncourt has a great article, The Accessible iPhone 3GS, which includes lots of suggestions and tips for other users.
- The Mac-cessibility Podcast team have produced a special edition podcast: More Than Meets the iPhone
- Shane Jackson of Blind World Blog and Podcast has written three blog posts with accompanying podcasts about his iPhone excitement and adventures:
I can’t find much written on the net yet by people using the Zoom, Voice Control, or other iPhone accessibility functions but what I did find seems realistically positive.
Resources for iPhone VoiceOver users are already appearing at a great rate. Holly Anderson has produced a list of VoiceOver Compatible iPhone Applications, and there’s a Google Group/Mailing list for iPhone VoiceOver users which is very active.
Still wondering if the iPhone is for you? CNet’s iPhone Review includes all the features, even touching on accessibility. They awarded it 4 out of a possible 5 stars, with the comment “Excellent”.
Now I’ve written all that I’m coveting an iPhone 3GS of my own, even though I have my perfectly functional iPod Touch and don’t need a mobile phone. It’s tough writing blog posts, I tell you!
Friday, June 5, 2009
It may look odd, but this ergonomic keyboard promises to free up your desk from the tyranny of your mouse. Well, from the tyranny of a separate mouse, anyway; the handiwork of an Australian inventor, the Combimouse turns the right-side of the keyboard into the mouse itself, using cleverly placed contacts to figure out when you’re trying to use it to to control your cursor.
Video demos after the cut
In mouse mode, the I, O, J, K, L and <>
According to the inventor, the Combimouse makes spreadsheet data entry, FPS gaming and general computing more straightforward; you can also use just the right-hand mouse portion with a laptop keyboard, as shown in this photo. Unfortunately they’re still looking for hardware and manufacturing partners, so right now the Combimouse isn’t available to buy.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
By Mark Wilson,
The Sign Language Translator's name may be a tad misleading (it doesn't actually translate anything), but as a pocket ASL video dictionary, it's a neat enough idea.
Featuring a 3,500 word dictionary (more words will be downloadable, we're promised), this seemingly retrofitted PMP is navigated via stylus. You type in the word that you'd like to sign and a video pops up of a guy signing it. Easy enough.
The Sign Language Translator runs for 6 hours before needing a recharge via USB. Slated for a mid-May, the device will be priced at $199. Adam Frucci was quick to point out that an iPhone app could undercut its marketshare pretty quickly. I'd love to see such a world, Adam. I really would.