UAE students develop 'smart eye' for visually impaired
What started as an idea to help a visually-impaired schoolmate, developed into a smart technology that will allow visually-impaired people to read. Students at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in Al Ain have developed a pocket-sized smart reading device called Braille Eye. The startup technology is being incubated at UAEU's Science and Innovation Park.
Designed to be no bigger than a standard mobile phone, the device's camera uses OCR or optical character recognition, which converts documents captured by a digital camera into editable and searchable data, then into Braille - the writing system used by people who are blind or have severe sight problems.
"We initially came up with the idea to help a friend and co-founder in our team, who is a visually-impaired student. We wanted to help him with his studies and his daily life, so we came up with Braille Eye," said Faraj Alfaraj, 22, an Emirati who is studying environmental biology at the UAEU.
Other members of the UAEU team are Mohammed Alhammadi, 22, who is studying electrical engineering; Mahmoud Abdulmalik, 23, taking up electrical engineering; Jingru Ma, 20, who is studying finance and banking; Saifeldden Hatim, 21-year-old chemical engineering student; and Abdulrahman Ghazal, 20, who is a supply chain and marketing student.
Their goal is to "open up new opportunities and knowledge for millions of visually-impaired people around the world."
According to the team, "Braille Eye is intended to help visually-impaired people around the world become more independent in their daily lives."
Alfaraj explained: "Braille Eye simply requires the user to direct the device toward any form of written material, and the technology will guide them to the point where this information comes within the range of its camera. The Braille equivalent of the text will then be displayed."
"It will mean they don't have to wait for Braille versions of books to be published - they will be able to simply go directly to libraries and use Braille Eye to read. The device can be used in supermarkets, to read bills, or in restaurants, to read menus - Braille Eye is designed to help them read anything, any time, and anywhere," he added.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are an estimated 285 million visually-impaired people worldwide, of which 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. About 90 per cent of them are on low incomes, and 82 per cent of those who are blind are aged 50 and above.
Braille Eye simply requires the user to direct the device toward any form of written material, and the technology will guide them to the point where this information comes within the range of its camera. The Braille equivalent of the text will then be displayed on the pocket-sized smart reading device. The device can be used in supermarkets, to read bills, or in restaurants, to read menus.