Crowdsourcing app MySmartEye helps visually-impaired 'see'

Summary:The visually-impaired can find out what's in front of them by snapping a picture, where a global network of volunteers can then key in their comments, which are read out over the blind user's smartphone.

SINGAPORE--Local telco StarHub has launched a crowdsourcing mobile app called MySmartEye to help the blind worldwide "see". The application connects the visually-impaired with a global network of volunteers who help describe the contents of the pictures they take.

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Volunteers describe the photo taken by a blind user. Non-English scripts are also supported such as Chinese. Comments are read out by the smartphone.

For example, if the user has trouble identifying an obstacle along the road or what's written on a street sign, he or she can snap a photograph, which is then shared in real-time with volunteers who installed the app. The comments are then read back to the user over his or her smartphone.

"With MySmartEye, anyone can help the visually impaired in mere seconds anytime, anywhere. Imagine all the time spent waiting in queue at the bank, for lunch, for the bus or train--this is time that could be spent bringing happiness to others," said Chan Kin Hung, head of personal solutions at StarHub.

He added the app was open to all customers from any telco and the goal was "beyond competition". It is available over iOS and Android, and plans to expand this to other platforms such as Windows Phone will depend on demand, noted Chan.

According to Michael Tan, executive director at Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), the app leverages the opportunity in micro-volunteering which is typically virtual volunteering, usually over an Internet-connected device and for short periods of time.

"Micro-volunteering is a revolutionary platform for time-starved Singaporeans. It gives existing volunteers an extra channel to help and demonstrates to would-be volunteers that it really doesn't take much to make a difference," said Tan.

The executive director noted the app would go a long way to promoting a more inclusive society in Singapore. His association currently serves over 3,000 clients.

Muhammad Zahier, an SAVH client present at the media launch, gave a positive review of his experience with the app. Refering to a picture of food he had posted, he said: "It feels more socially connected rather than using something using image recognition , you won't get responses like 'that's delicious'."

mysmarteye user
Muhammad Zahier, a visually handicapped client at SAVH, using MySmartEye to snap a picture which volunteers will later help to describe. (credit: StarHub)

While there is a current feature to flag abuse, StarHub said it will be working on finetuning it in the next update such as with ratings.

In conjunction with the launch of MySmartEye, StarHub also introduced SmartBuddy, a mobile plan open only to clients of SAVH and The Singapore Association for the Deaf. It comes with more talktime, SMS and data to cater to their heavier usage of social media and chat apps.

Another app similar to MySmartEye is LendAnEye, developed in Singapore by communications agency Grey Group. The app leverages the principle of FaceTime or Skype. A blind user first launches the app, which contacts a pre-selected group of guides, the video call then becomes the eyes for the user.

In India, a handset with an innovative "touchscreen" is being developed which will make use of Shape Memory Alloy technology. This will convert text and pictures into Braille and raised patterns via a grid of pins.

braille-phone
Prototype of Braille phone. (credit: sumitdagar.com)

Topics: Social Enterprise, Emerging Tech, Singapore, Smartphones, Telcos

About

Loves caption contests, leisurely strolls along supermarket aisles and watching How It's Made. Ryan has covered finance, politics, tech and sports for TV, radio and print. He is also co-author of best seller "Profit from the Panic". Ryan is an editor at ZDNet's Asia/Singapore office.

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