knfbReader opens the world of text to the blind

June 26, 2006

PRESS RELEASE | The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) unveiled Monday a groundbreaking new device, the knfbReader Mobile. The portable Reader, developed by the National Federation of the Blind and renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil, enables users to take pictures of and read most printed materials at the click of a button. Users merely hold “the camera that talks” over print — a letter, bills, a restaurant menu, an airline ticket, a business card, or an office memo — to hear the contents of the printed document played back in clear synthetic speech.

Combining a state-of-the-art digital camera with a powerful personal data assistant, the Reader puts the best available character-recognition software together with text-to-speech conversion technology in a single handheld device.

“I’ve worked on reading machines for the blind and with the National Federation of the Blind for over thirty years, and this has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had as an inventor,” said Kurzweil, who was the chief developer of the first omni-font optical character-recognition technology, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first commercially marketed, large-vocabulary speech recognition engine.

“I have always said that the most exciting aspect of being an inventor is to experience the leap from dry formulas on a blackboard to actual improvements in people’s lives, and I’ve had the reward of that experience with this project.

This is basically a software invention, he explained. “In addition to squeezing omni-font optical character recognition and text-to-speech synthesis into a pocket sized computer, we had to develop intelligent image enhancement software that could clean up the images of print received from a digital camera. Unlike the images produced by a flatbed scanner, images from a digital camera are subject to rotation, tilt, curvature, uneven illumination and other distortions. The image enhancement software we developed automatically corrects for these problems.

“Because this is a software based technology, our users will be able to benefit from the future improvements we make. In the future, we envision the reader being able to identify real-world objects, and even people’s faces. So, for example, the product may tell you that there is a cat in front of you, a lamp to your left, and sitting to your right is your ex-wife.'”

{ see also: Associated Press story}
{ see also: National Federation of the Blind press release }