[blindkid] FW: boston globe article

Carol Castellano carol_castellano at verizon.net
Tue Apr 28 20:01:52 UTC 2009

This is a great article.  Thanks for sharing it.

Have any of you purchased the reader for your kids?  My daughter is 
saving up for one!


At 09:47 AM 4/27/2009, you wrote:

>>Hi, all. Ethan's braille teacher sent me this interesting article 
>>from the Boston Globe last week:
>>The Portable EYE:
>>When Peter Alan Smith pulls out his phone in a crowded Back Bay 
>>restaurant, there's no
>>clue that his Nokia is by far the most expensive mobile phone in 
>>the entire place. He has
>>about $2,400 in software loaded onto the $600 device.
>>But then it becomes apparent what's unique about Smith's phone: A 
>>flash goes off when
>>he snaps a picture of the menu, and a few seconds later, his phone 
>>has translated the
>>page of text into speech, and started reciting the options through 
>>his earpiece at a rapid
>>Smith developed a degenerative eye disease when he was 18, and he 
>>is now legally
>>blind. It has been about two decades since he could read a restaurant menu
>>independently. He first heard about the phone on a podcast series 
>>called "Blind Cool
>>Tech" and took out a low-interest loan to buy it.
>>"At work, I can take a picture of two different documents to figure 
>>out which is which,"
>>says Smith, who works for John Hancock. "At home, if I'm making 
>>chili, I can take a
>>picture of a can to make sure it's the kidney beans before I open it."
>>The software that translates the text in high-resolution digital 
>>photos into speech is made
>>by KNFB Reading Technologies Inc. in Wellesley Hills. It was 
>>developed by Ray Kurzweil,
>>the local inventor who has been coming up with technological 
>>breakthroughs for the blind
>>since the mid-1970s. But as with many of his innovations, Kurzweil 
>>plans for the software
>>to be useful - perhaps incredibly useful - to sighted users in a 
>>few years from now.
>>Kurzweil released his first reading machine, developed in 
>>partnership with the National
>>Federation for the Blind, in 1976; on the day it was unveiled, TV 
>>anchor Walter Cronkite
>>used its speech synthesizer as he signed off the air. The device 
>>could scan printed pages,
>>decipher the letters, and speak the words aloud. It was about the 
>>size of a washing
>>machine and cost $50,000. Stevie Wonder bought the first production 
>>model, Kurzweil
>>In the decades that followed, much of the scanning and speech 
>>technology Kurzweil
>>developed evolved into the scanners and scanning software now built 
>>into many printers
>>and PCs. Burlington-based Nuance Communications Inc. sells several 
>>software products
>>originally created by Kurzweil to convert printed documents into text.
>>In 2002, the president of the National Federation of the Blind 
>>asked Kurzweil about
>>portable reading technology; though his reading machine had gotten 
>>smaller, it still
>>resided on a desktop. "There's a lot of printed material that you 
>>don't want to bring back
>>to your desk - or you can't - like a sign on a wall or a bank ATM 
>>display," Kurzweil says.
>>Kurzweil predicted a pocket-size reading machine was only about six 
>>years away.
>>Kurzweil and the federation began collaborating to develop the 
>>necessary software. It
>>had to be smart enough to interpret a photo taken at any angle, in 
>>any sort of lighting,
>>with random images sometimes in the background.
>>An interim device, released in 2006, married a Canon digital camera 
>>with a personal
>>digital assistant; it sold for $3,500. The cellphone version 
>>debuted earlier this year. It
>>works only on a Nokia N82 phone, which features a built-in 
>>5-megapixel camera, with
>>flash. The camera offers spoken feedback to the user as to whether 
>>it has captured the
>>entire page. After about 20 or 30 seconds of processing the image 
>>and turning it into
>>text, it starts speaking. The standard phone with software sells 
>>for $2,145, but also
>>includes a talking GPS system, and the ability to read any Web page 
>>to its user, among
>>other features. (It's also good at identifying the denominations on 
>>printed money.)
>>James Gashel, vice president of business development for KNFB 
>>Reading Technologies, is
>>also a user of the device. "I don't use it to read books," he says, 
>>"but I use it for the
>>daily mail, business cards, and brochures. I was at a Catholic 
>>men's retreat over the
>>weekend, and I used it to read the schedule."
>>Gashel says there are about 1.3 million blind people in the United 
>>States; since February,
>>the company has sold "thousands" of the readers, he says. But the 
>>population of
>>dyslexics is about three times larger. A new version of the mobile 
>>phone reader will soon
>>be available that is targeted to them. "These are people who can 
>>see print, but have
>>difficulty tracking from word to word," Gashel says. "So this new 
>>version of the software
>>helps people whose problem is that they get lost in a series of 
>>words on a page."
>>Still more intriguing is how the phone might assist other users. A 
>>prototype in Kurzweil's
>>lab is able to photograph a document in any of seven different 
>>languages and translate it
>>into English, Kurzweil says he has demonstrated it in public 
>>appearances, taking a photo
>>of text in French and having the phone read it in English. It 
>>sounds a bit like Douglas
>>Adams's fictional Babel fish - a universal translator.
>>"We call it 'snap and translate,' " he says. How soon will it be 
>>available? "Two or three
>>years," says Kurzweil, adding that he is talking to cellphone 
>>manufacturers. "We also
>>have a prototype of speech to speech translation, where you can 
>>speak in one language
>>and have it come out in another," he says. "Right now, that 
>>requires a bit more
>>computation than a cellphone can support," though he notes that 
>>phones are getting
>>more powerful each year.
>>As it turned out, Smith didn't really need to have his phone read 
>>the menu to him last
>>month at the Parish Cafe. He had been to the restaurant several years ago and
>>remembered eating a tasty steak sandwich. So that's what he 
>>ordered, and we spent the
>>meal talking about his experiences running the Boston Marathon and 
>>his tandem cycling
>>hobby. He says he uses the reader several times a day, about 
>>equally at home and at
>>work. He told me he's amazed by what the KNBF software can do - 
>>"it's a portable eye,
>>essentially" - but that he's hoping the cost will come down, so 
>>more blind and visually
>>impaired people can afford it. "The cost is prohibitive," he says.
>>Gashel says, "I think the cost of the phone will come down as the 
>>product expands in
>>terms of who it can reach. The bigger the customer base, the more 
>>we can bring the
>>price down." Still, he says, $2,100 isn't that expensive when it 
>>comes to technology for
>>the blind. He says he recently purchased a personal digital 
>>assistant that can render
>>phone numbers and appointments in Braille, for $4,500, and also 
>>paid $5,500 for a flat-
>>screen TV. "And I can't even see it," he quips. "But the people who 
>>come to my house
>>seem to like it."
>>Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner at pobox.com.
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