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Free Mandarin mobile app for visually impaired unveiled

2012/06/02 15:36:53

Taipei, June 2 (CNA) A free Mandarin-language mobile application that promises to help the visually impaired live more independently was unveiled Saturday.

A team of six engineers and experts spent a year developing and pulling together various technologies and information to come up with what they called "a mobile assistant."

With the app, visually impaired people can easily get hold of the latest stock prices, listen to the latest news, or order food at certain restaurants and food stalls by themselves, without having to ask for help.

"It is a life-changing innovation for us, for those who have difficulty seeing," said Eric Yang, public relations director of the Taipei-based Technology Development Association for the Disabled, one of the project's main initiators.

There are over 60,000 visually impaired people in Taiwan, according to government figures, and Yang is hoping the self-funded project can help them help themselves 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 visually impaired people to figure out the denomination of a bill, for example, with their own smartphones or tablets, Yang said.

The app also makes catching a bus more efficient because it features 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 his bus arrives rather than having to wait 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 are planning to extend the app to other operating systems and expand its database and offerings in the future.

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 smarter," Yang said.

Meanwhile, Yang also encouraged people to donate funds to help finance the NT$2 million (US$66,790) it will cost to upgrade and promote the application this year.

(By James Lee)
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