Sun, Jun 03, 2012 - Page 2 News List

App aims to help visually impaired

INDEPENDENT:Users can install the app on Android smartphones or tablets to access stock quotes, bus timetables, news and restaurants, its developer said

Staff writer, with CNA

A boy uses a mobile phone as the Technology Development Association for the Disabled announces the creation of the first mobile app in Chinese to help blind people, at a press conference at Taipei Circle in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: CNA

A free Mandarin-language mobile application that purports to help the visually impaired live more independently was unveiled yesterday.

A team of six engineers and experts spent a year developing various technologies to come up with what they called “a mobile assistant.”

With the app, visually impaired people can find out the latest stock prices, listen to the latest news, or order food at select restaurants and food stalls by themselves.

“It is a life-changing innovation for those of us who have difficulty seeing,” said Eric Yang (楊聖弘), public relations director of the Taipei-based Technology Development Association for the Disabled, one of the project’s initiators.

There are more than 60,000 visually impaired people in the country, according to government figures, and Yang is hoping the self-funded project can help them lead a more independent life.

The app uses a technology called scale-invariant feature transform, which is an algorithm that extracts distinctive features from images and translates them into a format that allows the visually impaired to figure out the denomination of a bill, for example, using a smartphone or tablet computer, Yang said.

The app also makes taking a bus easier because it includes real-time timetables for Taipei buses.

Yang said that with the app, he now only has to arrive at a bus stop a few minutes before the bus rather than waiting for a long time.

Still in its initial stage, the app only runs on the Android operating system and needs improvement, the developers said, but they plan to extend the app to other operating systems and expand its database and features.

Free workshops will be held to help those interested learn how to install and operate the software, the association said.

“Although the app is not perfect, it can definitely help make the lives of the visually impaired better,” Yang said.

Yang also encouraged people to donate money to help finance the NT$2 million (US$66,790) needed to promote and upgrade the app.

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