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Intel makes an e-reader for the visually impaired

By Robert McMillan
November 10, 2009 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Intel Corp. today started selling a new e-reader that can snap pictures of books and newspapers and then read them back to people who have a hard time reading the printed page.

Called the Intel Reader, the $1,499 device assists people who are blind, dyslexic or have weak vision, said Ben Foss, the director of access technology with Intel's Digital Health Group, who came up with the idea for the reader. "It's designed to give them independence and access to reading."

Intel estimates that there are as many as 55 million people in the U.S. who could use its device. Foss said the Reader will give many of them a new freedom to read books, magazines and newspapers that would otherwise be inaccessible. Users hold the Reader a few feet above the paper they want to read; it snaps a photo, and within seconds converts the page to text, which it can then display in a large font or read out loud.

"We're excited by this and we think it will really make a difference for millions of people with disabilities," said James Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, speaking at a Monday press conference where the device was unveiled.

Sold by resellers such as CTL, Howard Technology Solutions and HumanWare, the paperback-sized device combines a 5-megapixel camera with a Linux-powered, optical character-recognition system and software that converts text into the spoken word. With 2GB of storage, it can store about 600 snapshots of scanned pages -- at two pages per snapshot that would represent a 1,200-page paperback novel.

The device can play back scanned items, but it also supports MP3s, WAV files, text files and the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format, used to publish books for people with reading problems. The battery can power about four hours of playback between charges.

The Intel Reader
The Intel Reader

The reader has a special user interface designed for people who have a hard time reading, and it can play back audio at varying speeds. Foss likes to hear playback at the almost comically high-pitched speed of 200 words per minutes, which he likens to speed-reading.

Intel also makes a briefcase-sized docking station that can hold and power the reader while it's being used to scan a large number of pages. The company will introduce a U.K. version of the Reader in a few days and plans to roll it out in other countries as well, Foss said.

The device represents a sleeker alternative to more cumbersome reading aides such as text magnifiers, which cost around $3,000 each, and Braille readers, which can cost between $7,000 and $10,000, Foss said.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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