Blind World

World's first portable reading machine for the blind.

July 11, 2005.

Kurzweil Technologies , Inc. ( KTI ) and the National Federation of the Blind ( NFB ) introduced the world's first portable reading machine for the blind last week at the NFB's 2005 National Convention in Louisville, KY.

The portable reading machine , which can fit in a user's shirt pocket, can read print and text materials as users go through their normal daily routine. It converts print into human -sounding speech and can read handouts at meetings, signs on a wall, text on packages, and electronic displays.

The hardware consists of a consumer digital camera with a standard PocketPC, so the hardware cost is expected to benefit from the rapid improvement of price-performance of consumer electronic s.

The camera and pocket computer are held together by a snap-in case.

The technology was developed by Ray Kurzweil and his colleagues at KTI in close collaboration with the NFB, which is organizing a comprehensive testing program with blind users.

Ray Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, also developed in close collaboration with the NFB. Ray Kurzweil noted that "The new unit is 10,000 times smaller than the original 1976 reading machine , yet the computer it's using is 2,000 times more powerful."

This new portable unit is expected to be available for sale in 2006.

NFB Director of Strategic Projects Jim Gashel demonstrated the reading machine to an enthusiastic audience of more than 2,000 blind delegates. "There was cheering for several minutes while the machine read the document," said Kurzweil, who followed the demo with a talk explaining the machine , KTI's collaboration with NFB on the project, and the future of this technology .

The portable reader provides feedback to the user on what it sees, guiding the user to properly frame reading material. It can report, for example, if one of the edges of a document is out of view. It is also capable of stitching together portions of a document from multiple pictures taken by the camera. It can detect and correct any degree of document rotation and is insensitive to three degrees of freedom of image tilt or rotation.

The software also includes image-enhancement techniques to compensate for uneven illumination and the low quality optics of inexpensive consumer cameras. Future version will include scene-recognition capabilities to locate objects such as chairs, lamps and people.

End of article.

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