In the years 2007-2008 we developed a reading device for blind persons. A digital camera captures an image of a document, the computer recognizes the layout and the text in the document, and reads it aloud. The device is portable, it consist of an embedded PC with a battery and a 5 Megapixel camera. The reading device is now being sold by the company Beyo GmbH in Potsdam. I received the Technology Transfer Prize “WissenWertes 2009” for the development of the machine.
We are now developing the next generation of the reading device which has evolved into a complete information appliance for blind and elderly persons. The picture below shows a diagram of the machine. As in the first reading device, a digital camera is used to capture documents, but now the recognition and OCR are done accessing a server through the Internet. The computer in the device is very small and uses low-power chips. Speakers in the machine are used to play the synthetic voice files sent by the server.
The main innovation is that a blind or elderly person can navigate the Internet using a rotating dial. The use of the device is similar to tuning radio stations using a portable radio. The stations, in our device, are services which the user can access. One channel or service is OCR for reading documents aloud. Another service is a call center which can help to configure the device, or reading fonts which are too small or difficult to recognize for the computer. Another information channel is the daily newspaper, which can be read by the computer. The user navigates through the different sections (organized as a tree) using the dial and pushing the knob for selecting a branch in the tree (in a similar way as with the old iPod). Additional services are: providing the time of the day, the weather prediction, hearing e-mail, dictating e-mail, tuning Internet radio stations, etc. The number of different services grows continually and does not modify the information appliance itself, only its usefulness.