Blind World Magazine

Look out, Kurzweil / NFB reading machine!

Daily News & Analysis, India.
Saturday, August 12, 2006.

MUMBAI: Every now and then, the perennial debate of technology being a bane or boon is won by innovations that literally brighten up the world.

The Hand-Held Step Scanning Device (HHSS) developed by the Central Scientific Instruments Organisation (CSIO), Chandigarh is one such example. The device works like 'speaking eyes' and promises to unlock barricades faced by the visually impaired and blind.

Until now, the visually impaired had to use the tactile (touch) sense to recognise the world around them, Braille being the most established method. The step-scanner eliminates the need to change text into Braille. When attached to a desk-top computer or a laptop, it converts text into speech. The HHSS is a hand-held device with no moving parts, making it very light and easy to handle for the user. It offers a field view just the size of a paragraph in a book. A few modifications will make allow it to read along the width of an A4 document. The device is language independent and applies to all scripts/languages written horizontally-including English, Hindi and Arabic. The basic principle of the functioning is using multiple image-snaps with minimum overlap. To achieve continuity in scanning and removing overlap, two techniques are used: 1. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) that converts the printed text;
2. Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology that manages the audio output.

The device is very light (350-500 grams) and can be placed anywhere on the document, making reading simple. All the reading aids available so far are very cumbersome and cannot be handled by the user independently.

In this case, the user can control the overall speed of text-input to suit his convenience. The HHSS device not only translates the text under its base, but also magnifies and highlights the words being read. This is a big advantage for those who are partially visually impaired.

Dr H K Sardana, who heads the HHSS project at CSIO, says, "The price of the HHSS device would be slightly higher than a digital camera or a mobile phone with a high resolution camera. Though the device is still not available, prototypes will be placed in schools for the blind in different states for further improvements."

End of article.

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