Smartphone technology pilot tested for visually impaired

An Android smartphone powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor is currently being tested in a pilot in Israel involving 100 participants linked to audio book content at Israel's Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped, according to an Oct. 22 announcement. The device, developed by Israeli company Project RAY, integrates the capabilities of smartphone technology and multiple specialty devices into a single, cost-effective handset with 24/7 mobile broadband connectivity and a user interface designed for eye-free interaction.

The collaboration between Qualcomm and Project RAY, part of Qualcomm's Wireless Reach initiative, is meant to enhance the ability of blind and visually impaired people to access resources and information independently. In the trial project, Israeli participants will be able to use the devices to easily access and download audio assets from the library over an advanced mobile broadband network, rather than waiting to receive CD copies.  

The device is seen as a major improvement, given that the majority of blind and visually impaired people use 2G mobile phones for voice telephony only, and depend on specialty devices such as audio book-readers, color readers, navigation tools, raised Braille labels, special bar-code scanners, and large-buttoned, voice-enabled MP3 players, which can be expensive.

The device's user interface (UI) supports a rich set of services, including phone calls, text messaging with vocal read-out, navigation, object recognition, social network services, remote assistance, audio-book reading, and other leisure and entertainment offerings.

"The breakthrough UI defines a new language for human-device interaction that is built ground-up for eye-free operation," said Boaz Zilberman, chief executive officer of Project RAY, which designs accessibility tools for blind and visually impaired people. "The user touches any position on the screen and that position becomes the starting point for selecting an audio-book, messaging or other activity. Navigation is enabled by a few simple finger movements in different directions."

Similar work is being conducted at Vanderbilt University where researchers are testing a new Android app running on a tablet that touchscreen technology to help the visually impaired "feel" information. The tablets are programmed to vibrate or emit a specific tone when a fingertip touches a line, curve or shape displayed on the screen, generating a number of different frequencies and hundreds of different sounds.

To learn more:
- read the Qualcomm announcement