Digital reading software for vision-impaired people costs around $400 and can only verbalise text. Senior Lecturer Dr Iain Murray and PhD student Azadeh Nazemi of Curtin University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering have designed a new system that enables vision-impaired people to also access information from images – for $100.
The device is 3 cm thick and about the size of an iPad, with built-in speakers and navigation buttons. Nazemi says it was a challenge to combine several existing technologies into one system that could recognise patterns, segment them into pieces of interest, interpret information and describe it in an audio format.
“In a line graph, for example, the machine has to work out where the axes are, conduct optical character recognition on the labels and legends, match it all together and calculate, in human terms, what the lines mean: Are they heading up? Is there a change at a certain point?” Nazemi says.
The device can read any electronic document via a USB memory stick and can also download books from the library. In addition, its voice-activation feature works in more than 120 languages.
“Our system is easily operated by people of all ages and abilities, and it is open source so anyone can use and modify the software,” Murray says.
With more than 20,000 people in Western Australia alone who are legally blind, and at least 285 million vision-impaired people worldwide, a user-friendly system that can interpret complex visual information will have a profound impact.
“We believe the biggest difference will be in countries such as Africa, India and China because demand is high and our devices are affordable,” says Murray.
– Branwen Morgan