Cell-Phone Tech Helps the Blind See

At a press conference Monday morning, KNFB Reading Technologies and Nokia announced that the KNFB text-recognition system has been installed inside the Nokia N82 cell phone.

The partnership with Nokia is a step forward on the ongoing relationship of the KNFB technology, a partnership between inventor Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind, which co-developed the device as KNFB Reading Technologies. In June 2006, KNFB launched a discrete reader device that sold for about $3,500.

Now, a partnership with Nokia has placed the technology inside the N82, which includes a 5-megapixel autofocus camera.

Both the discrete reader and the NKNFB-enhanced Nokia N82 use the same basic principle: a user holds the device in front of a sign or menu, and the built-in software takes a picture, interprets the text, and reads the text aloud using text-to-speech synthesis to allow the user to understand the content. Essentially, it's an OCR system tied to a text-to-speech synthesizer. It's designed to allow the blind to operate without the need for assistance from a sighted person, in a world that doesn't always provide Braille.

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