When it comes to mobile technology for the visually impaired or blind, choices are extremely limited. Sure there are a few choices, such as Sight and Sound Technology’s Georgie Android-based smartphone (that works much like Apple’s Siri with optical recognition and other haptic features added on) and Qualcomm’s upcoming Ray phone. These phones rely on sound, gestures and haptics (vibrations) to convey information or make phone calls. This limits users to a handful of options when using their phones rather than all the features associated with the latest batch of smartphones on the market. An Indian inventor/designer is looking to change that with a $50,000 (Swiss francs) prize from Rolex’s (Watch Company) Award for Enterprise challenge.
Sumit Dagar is looking to develop a smartphone for the blind that incorporates Braille, which would allow the user to ‘feel’ the information on-screen rather than listening to it. Dagar explains that the phone will use height-mapping to project information from text to images and even video that the blind can feel as its being played (obviously with sound)! Users will be able to use the phone to scan various mediums (books, magazines, bus schedules etc.), and convert the information to Braille in real-time. They will also be able to navigate on their own through interactive tactile map displays using the phones GPS sensor for both indoor and outdoor locations. Playing music and games (limited so far) through the phones tactile interface are just a few of the ‘extras’ Dagar is looking to include on his ‘Braille Phone’ which those of us with sight take for granted. According to Dagar’s website, the Braille Phone is past the conceptualization stage and currently in the ‘validation and iteration’ stage where it’s currently being prototyped. This could lead to a fully commercialized product by the end of next year (2013). I'm happy to see some work in this area, I hope it works out. Hey, Apple, use some of your $100 billion petty fund and help him out.