Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cellphones for the visually impaired

You could soon navigate your way around town blindfolded. The International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIIT-B) and Chennai-based companies, Lattice Bridge Info and Spatial Data (Spinfo), are jointly developing cellphone-based technology designed to help the visually impaired and tourists find their way in a particular location. Call a designated number and ask a question like 'Where am I?' or 'Where is the nearest ATM?' and disconnect.

In a few seconds, you will get a call with an automated voice saying, 'You are at 39A Cross, 5th Block, Jayanagar' or 'The nearest ATM is two blocks ahead. Go straight down Jayanagar 5th block main road, take the second left and it's the third building on the right'. IIIT-B is developing the server application, and Lattice Bridge is designing the voice engine (which converts text messages to speech). Spinfo will provide the geographical content.

"The only thing that needs to be worked out now is the business model. The investment in this whole set-up will have to be met by the subscribers. We have all the technology pieces ready. The service provider can host the software,'' said Prof S Rajagopalan of IIIT-B. The group is in discussion with various service providers. The project will initially be tested in Bangalore or Chennai and then extended to other cities. The pilot phase should be up and running in six months. If the user has a GPS-enabled phone with bluetooth capability, then the software can ascertain the caller's location more precisely.

Else, it will have to use the nearest cellular towers and determine the location. The estimated cost of development of the application, database and the server hosting charges is Rs 15-20 lakh per city. The real challenge, however, is converting text to speech and the accent neutrality needed to deliver the message back to the caller. According to Prof Rajagopalan, Spinfo already has about 8,000 key points of Bangalore marked on its geographic database. It's expected to double to 16,000 points soon. The entire application will be a joint IP (intellectual property) of IIIT-B, Spinfo and Lattice Bridge but all rights will be assigned to IIIT-B so that it can license the application to others at a nominal cost.


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