Innovation for Independence

VISOR – Vision Impairment Support: Optical Reader

Publish date:
16/01/2015 - 2:57pm
Last updated:
16/01/2015 - 2:57pm
Neil Polwart

With so much information in our world displayed in printed form, you can imagine the challenge facing a visually impaired (VI) person in accessing services and participating in everyday life. Our idea is to utilise the camera technology found in almost every smartphone paired with visual recognition software to turn text in our everyday environment into audible messages via an App on a mobile device. Many recent innovations in smartphone control, like voice control (popularised through Apple’s Siri), have enabled VI users to access smartphone and tablet technology. Text to speech technology enables users to listen to websites and e-books, but currently no such mobile offering exists for printed media that is prevalent in society – signage, restaurant menus, letters etc. We know of no offering that would provide near real time computer vision to recognise text and read it in situ. Novarum has expertise in developing real time image processing on mobile devices, and proposes developing this project with the Royal Blind School. Initial prototypes would be developed for Apple iOS devices widely used within the School’s demographic and the wider disability and sensory impairment population. Later developments could extend to other types of phone and input / output devices.

Insight & Impact

Novarum is developing a relationship with the Royal Blind School, Edinburgh (RBS) via one of its employees whose daughter attends the school and has cortical blindness as well as a number of other physical and sensory disabilities. The RBS will provide, not only an insight into the challenges that the VISOR App can potentially address, but through its pupils, related organisations and its alumni, will facilitate access to potential user groups of all ages, including those who only have a VI and those with other sensory or physical impairment. Our initial discussions with the RBS highlight that aspects of everyday life we take for granted, such as reading a restaurant menu, can present a real barrier for VI children and adults, affecting engagement and self-esteem. The applications are broad, including understanding signage, reading a letter or simple flyers. Through the RBS we would expect to discover Educational applications for the VISOR technology, but the App is intended to be just as useful outside the classroom to help people with visual impairment become more independent by interacting with the printed world around them. Future versions could integrate with brail based ‘displays’, AssistiveTouch (iOS) and other disability aids.