New Phone Reads to the Blind

K-NFB Reading Technology, a joint venture between Kurzweil Technologies and the National Federation of the Blind, unveiled today reading software designed for the Nokia N82 smartphone. 

The software, under K-NFB’s Reader Mobile product line, uses speech technology from Nuance Communications to empower the N82 to scan and read out loud printed documents, labels, and the valuation of U.S. currency. It also displays sentences and highlights word as they are read to aid individuals with learning or reading impediments, and can store thousands of pages via flash memory. Additionally, users can enact swift transfers to braille note takers.  While not all of this technology is new—such as the pattern recognition needed to read hard documents, its release marks the first time much of it has been integrated into a device as tiny as a cell phone. 

"It is only recently that the products necessary"—namely a phone with enough processing power and a high-enough quality camera—"became available to integrate with our software," writes Kurzweil Technologies CEO Raymond Kurzweil in an email. K-NFB selected the Nokia N82 because of both its processing power and camera flash quality. "We will expand the technology to other phones as their flash capabilities expand qualitatively," Kurzweil adds.

In a press release,  Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, hailed the Reader Mobile products. "No other device in the history of technology has provided such portability and quick access to print materials," he said, predicting that the reader will make the visually impaired more independent. "This Reader will substantially improve the quality of life for the growing number of blind people and people who are losing vision, including seniors," he said.
The next step for the technology is to optimize the Reader for object and logo recognition so that it will recognize commercial company trademarks, or indoor scenes such as hallways or offices. Kurzweil also says that language translation capabilities will be featured in the near future.

Currently, the software is priced at $1,595 and the phone costs $500.

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