Renowned futurist, computer scientist and (more recently) Google employee Raymond Kurzweil has just launched an app that can essentially give sight to the blind by simply reading any text presented to a smartphone camera lens. The KNFB Reader app is heralded as a major break through for blind people, will cost only $99 and will eventually be available on both iOS and Android.
It’s known as the KNFB Reader app (an abbreviation of Kurzweil and National Federation of the Blind) and it is the fruit of forty years of research and development stretching back as far as 70’s. When Ray Kurzweil was not busy developing some the world’s first commercial electronic synthesizers, he was busy dreaming up ideas that help the blind overcome their condition. One such concept was the ‘Reading Machine’, an optical recognition system that at the time did not exist in any form. Early attempts where huge, cumbersome and extremely expensive, but through co-operation with the NFB in the US, and technological development with Belgium-based Sensotec NV, the KNFB Reader was born, harnessing the technology available and accessible to us all with our smartphone devices.
The KNFB Reader app won’t allow the blind to see but it will in theory allow much more freedom and independence in unfamiliar surroundings. The user simply tilts the camera sensor around to find and read printed materials which can then be read aloud or even displayed in Braille. Experts predict that this could revolutionize the living standards of Blind people who can now much more easily read restaurant menus, street signs, food and medicine containers and more. Check out the video below:
The KNFB Reader (I do hope they eventually change that name…) is a great example of what futurists like Kurzweil refer to as technological convergence. This is the phenomena where several technological developments and break-throughs combine to facilitate the creation of profoundly newer and more advanced applications. The KNFB Reader is only possible today due to the emergence of smartphones, which in turn represents several radical technological innovations such as low power/high res LCD screens, low power/high performance mobile processors, light weight batteries and of course camera sensors. The continued miniaturization and continued improvement of these technologies has brought humanity to a point where a blind person can now acquire the ability to read any text (in several languages) presented before them, armed with just a smartphone and a $99 app. Awesome…