New Development by Technion Students Enables Visually Impaired to Use Smartphones

The students presenting the new smartphone application. Standing (from right): Amir Mizrachi, Roman Gurevitz, Amir Blumenthal, Olivia Hoffman, and Meital Messing. Sitting (from right): Amit Yaffe and Yaron Oster. Photograph by the Technion Spokesman

Students at the Technion have developed software that enables the visually impaired to use smartphones by vocally announcing the key the user is pressing. Dialing, texting and setting the smartphone alarm clock are daily operations that most people perform very easily. The world of the visually impaired is completely different since they are unable to use touchscreen phones and so most of these operations are unavailable to them.

A group of students from the Technion’s Faculty of Computer Science spent 6 months developingVision, a software program that enables the visually impaired to use smartphones. The development team included Amir Mizrachi, Amir Blumenthal, Amit Yaffe, Meital Messing, Olivia Hoffman, Yaron Oster, and Roman Gurevitz. The unique application was developed as part of the “Yearly Programming Project” course, under the supervision of Prof. Yossi Gil and Sabih Egbaria.

The application, which can be installed on any (android) smartphone, is designed to enable the user to use the phone’s regular functions by informing the user, in a clear voice, which key he or she is pressing. Using the application, users may dial a number, know who is calling them, get the time, read text messages, and even know where they are located. The application also enables the user to set the alarm clock, know about missed calls, find contacts, and even send a distress signal to a family member in case of need. The application was developed by the students as a public service and can be downloaded free of charge.

“As part of the course, we were given the freedom to choose a project to focus on. After much deliberation, we decided to develop something for the common good rather than for commercial purposes,” says Amit Yaffe, a 4th year student at the Faculty of Computer Science and co-developer of the application. “I was personally familiar with the subject and I knew that it’s an area that could use some help and that they would be happy for some innovation. During the development we enlisted the help of the Association for the Blind, and specifically of Mr. Adi Nathan, a member of the Association, who accompanied us and contributed to the project significantly. Specifically, Mr. Nathan closely examined the software and raised problems and ideas that greatly enhanced the development. Our application is unique in the market in that it is free. Most applications that are currently available for the visually impaired are very expensive and most of them are not available in Hebrew. During the development process we received help from Aharon, a company that develops speech engines in Hebrew, Samsung, who contributed a smartphone, and Agilo, an American company that contributed development management software.”

Prof. Yossi Gil who supervised the students summarized their work: “The uniqueness of the application the students developed is that it is designed for any android cell phone, it is available free of charge, and it requires no changes to the phone itself.”

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