BlinkTech
Monday, November 24, 2003
 
BLOGGER

A truly voice only mobile phone.



Owasys, a Spanish company that I tried to check out about 6 weeks ago have finally announced the release of their voice based mobile phone, reviewed in this BBC article.

What I like the look of is the price - 250 UK Pounds, a lot cheaper than the offering sold by Freedom Scientific.

By the looks of their platform and developer kit, this is not the only big news. I think I see another application that will be delivered shortly, the phone providing GPS information in a verbal manner. This could really impact on the great technology done at Pulse Data with their GPS system, which needs their BrailleNote technology to work - a far more expensive solution. 2004 looks like it may be quite an interesting year.

Thursday, October 02, 2003
 
I read some interesting news this morning that there is a new mobile phone that has been designed especially for the blind and Visually impaired. The phone includes Pocket Babel (from Babel Technologies and is designed by Owasys. Great I thought time to have a look. As you will note I have not placed a link to Owasys here, because the web site is awful from an accessibility point of view. Some flash to start with, a highly graphical page with a link to the english pages (Owasys appears to be a spanish company) that is speech inaccessible, and finally all the news items are in PDF and even my browser Home Page Reader could not convert!

So I Googled instead...

It looks like the product - Owasys22/3C is very new. Out of Spain the company is only just gearing up on the marketing and I could not find a lot of technical details. I think is a GSM network based phone that contains "most" of the standard functionality. A presentation at the RNIB in November looks like the main launch - here is the abstract.

They are quoting that this is the first mobile phone for the blind, but what about the announcement in June of the Nokia 9210i? Here is Vodaphone's News Release.

From my perspective the future looks bright on the mobile phone front, but unles the Owasys22/3C is significabtly cheaper than the Nokia 9210i (with adaptive software, in the region of $800 - $1000 USD) I think I will wait.







Thursday, September 25, 2003
 

Epson and Fonix Announce New Speech Platform



Still more happening in the area of embedded speech. I think that we will begin to see an explosion in this area over the next 12 months and when the price begins to fall (at about that time), then we should start to see quite a new range of products that will be of use to the blind and visually impaired. The question for today is what daily activities and interaction with "devices" could benefit with a speech output interface?

Here are some links to the press release / news item itself Press box
Press Web
And some techie details at Embedd ed start


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Thursday, September 11, 2003
 

New Gnome Desktop looks like an Accessibility Winner! BigTime!




I have not tried this out myself yet, but this article - http://arstechnica.com/reviews/003/software/gnome-2.4/gnome2.4-4.html seems to say that finally we can have some serious accessibility built into the desktop without having to spin cartwheels. I have been playing (only very slightly) with Linux over the last few years and have been frustrated with the following problems.




But in the last couple of weeks there has been some major news that I think means that here is finally some hope to "bootstrap" blinks into the Linux environment.
First off I heard about Gnopernicus and was very excited. I have just this week got a copy of Mandrake to install over the top of my damaged Red hat install - with the sound bug, or patched so that sound works, but no network :-) - and was planning to install mandrake and Gnopernicus this weekend. Now that the new Gnome is out, I will install this instead...


Another very exciting piece of news was a distribution called Oralux that is a Knoppix variant. Knoppix is Linux on a cd that you place in your PC and boot from. Oralux is the same but after booting you are in EmacsSpeak with the Flight TTS engine running!!!! This is really really cool and all I have to do now is learn 4,000 new keystrokes and I will be away

And today comes the news that Gnome 2.4 has Magnifier, screen reader and braille output built in. It never rains but it pours.


Further postings over the next few weeks will be concentrating on these new possibilities. So much to do, so little time....




 

Another embedded TTS solution




In a previous post I talked about the cost of embedded text-to-speech.
Today another brick in that wall with some news from Advanced Recognition
Technologies Inc who have a new embedded speech solution. It appears that
this is designed specifically for the cellphone and car market but there
appear some intersting aspects. Firstly this is a software only solution,
which generally means that the price should be a lot lower than a
hardware based solution at this time in the TTS development cycle.
Secondly the platforms are quite numerous and therfore quite portable. I
was surprised to see the size of the TTS engine (without voice files) of
20k! Multiple languages and voices as well I think.
http://www.artcomp.com/index_products.htm



I think I need to also check out the competition to this as I am sure
that there will be a number of competing products of a similar nature.




Tuesday, August 19, 2003
 

Magnification is not the only issue.



To those folk who are not "visually impaired", the thought is that all one
needs to do if you can't see the screen is to increase the size of the
font and all will be well. This can help but imagine being able to only
see a tenth of your screen and to view the rest you would need to scroll
around? Not exactly a great productivity tool. Magnification in small
amounts works well, but the moment it gets to a size that it restricts
your view of the big picture, it actually starts to hinder, slowing you
down. Vision and perception are very closely tied to detail and context.

So what is the answer? Well some of the screen magnifiers firstly allow
the screen to be in one magnification and then a view port, very much like
a magnifying glass around the mouse or caret so that the detailed
information is magnified but overall context is maintained. Zoomtext is an
example of a screen magnification program that allows this, as does MAGic
and I am sure most of the other main stream screen magnifiers. If
interested there is a great site with reviews, news and the like
especially to do with magnification needs - http://www.magnifiers.org.
Note that the stationary magnifiers that sit in a portion of the screen
are next to useless. The viewport needs to follow focus of the mouse and
caret otherwise it is next to useless.

Another option is to add speech as another form of interface to augment
the visual information. The mainstream magnification packages have this as
an option, though adds quite a bit to the cost. Personally I would not be
without speech on my machine any more. The feedback that it gives me on
top of the context that I can get by NOT using too much magnification
makes me a lot faster than the mainstream way that would have me using
more magnification and less speech. Speech for detail and sight for
context. In fact I do not nor will I ever need or use a magnification
program, even though my sight is quite restricted.

Colour and contrast are two aspects of vision that can make significant
difference to how you see, and for those visually impaired that are still
not needing very large magnification, can really make a huge difference. I
am writing this note in an editor where the font is around 15 point, all
scroll bars, toolbars and the like are turned off to give me more screen
real estate, the background is black and the font white. Another really
handy touch is the current line is highlighted in bright yellow (my
choice), so that I do not have to spend ages hunting for the caret and
resorting to the Blinkie salute - the series of keystrokes Home, Shift-End
to help me find the current line.

I am so happy with the differing current line colour that I decided to ask
a couple of software authors to add to some products I use. Three
differing responses.

1. Yep quite simple and I will add to the next release (which was 6 weeks
later). Thanks Zeus Editor.

2. This is not on our current development plan (and by inference never
will be), Just use our wonderful magnification functionality. Hmmmmm

3. "Thank you for feedback, you are a valued customer, we take your input
sseriously and pass the buck to our accessibility department so that one
day, if no-one drops the ball, your feature request will be summarised
considered and just maybe added to our code base just prior to your
retirement." Microsoft has done a great job on accessibility, a really
good one, so please try this one - it really is quite simple....




Monday, August 11, 2003
 

View Web Pages Your Way



Custom Style Sheets have been a real saviour for me since I was introduced to them over 4 years ago. I was working with an interface expert, who realised that I was having trouble with the custom colour settings that I was using in Internet Explorer. Eric Williams explained to me that I could create a custom style sheet that would replace the one that web authors had created for their pages, allowing me to view each element of a page in a manner that suited me.

I had a quick hunt on the web and downloaded a starting css file that I then edited a little. I altered a few properties so that headings and paragraphs were displayed in a colour and size that I liked. I then attached to my browser and I have been able to view over 95% of all web pages in a consistent and clear manner.

This is the beauty of style sheets, it divorces content from presentation, allowing people with visual impairments to view the same content but in a completely different and more appropriate form. I have made minor tweaks over the last few years and have generally found them a god-send. They are not perfect, and there are still web pages that do not render well when a custom style sheet is applied (predefined and constant space that doesn't change with font size for example), but I have recently found a way round this and will discuss this in a future post.

here is a site that gives you a starting style sheet and instructions for adding the file to your
browser.
http://www.microsoft.com/enable/training/ie5/css.aspxhttp://www.microsoft.com/enable/

And here is my style sheet that you can copy and paste into a file, save with a .css extension and using the accessibility options within your browser, make your custom sheet as well. Experiment with differing colours and the like. Just remember that you will have to restart your browser after making changes.

------------------ Style Sheet Begins Here ----------------------
<!-- Copyright Darryl Sherwood 1999-2003 -->
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN">
<HTML><HEAD>
<META content="text/html; charset=windows-1252" http-equiv=Content-Type></HEAD>
<BODY><XMP>


medium {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: 6pt;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

strong {
font-weight: bold;
}

small {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

body {
padding-left: 4%;
padding-right: 4%;
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
background: navy;
}


table,tr{
background: navy;
font-color: white;
}

img{
backgound: white;
}

h1 {
font-size: 3.6em;
color: white;
background: green;
font-weight: bold;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

h2 {
font-size: 2.8em;
text-align: left;
font-weight: bold;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
background: navy;
font-color: white;
}

h3 {
font-size: 2.0em;
text-align: left;
font-weight: bold;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

td {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

th {
font-weight: bold;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

p {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

input,select,textarea {
font-weight: bold;
font-size: 0.7em;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
color: white;
background: black;

}



li {
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

hr {
color: white
}



address {
font-style: italic;
font-size: medium;
font-weight: normal;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

pre {
font-weight:bold;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Conole","Fratiger Linotype", "Courier New", "Courier", monospace;
}

ul {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
list-style-type: square;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

ul ul {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
list-style-type: disc;
}

ul ul ul {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
list-style-type: circle;
}

li {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

dl {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

dt {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

dd {
font-weight: normal;
font-size: medium;
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

a:link {
color: yellow; ;
background: navy;
text-decoration: underline;

}

a:visited {
color: lime;
background: navy
text-decoration: underline;
}

a:active {
color: #000000;
background: yellow;
text-decoration: underline;
}

a:hover {
color: #000000;
background: yellow;
text-decoration: underline;
}

.new, .error {
font-weight: bold;
color: #FFFFFF;
background: red;
}

.pop {
font-weight: bold;
color: #FFFFFF;
background: green;
}

address {
margin-top: 1.6em;
}

pre {
font-family: "Tiresias LPfont","Console","Verdana", "Lucida", "Arial", "Geneva", "Helvetica", sans-serif;
}

table, tr, th, td, thead, tbody, tfoot
{
display: block !important;
}

</XMP></BODY></HTML>
}

Friday, July 18, 2003
 
What is going to happen to embedded Text-To-Speech?

The cost of text to speech has dropped dramatically over the last 5 years. On a PC the cost is pretty much free since Microsoft distributed it's engine on 2000 and XP. I was using this for development prior to this and it was a pretty good engine - especially for the price. On the Linux platform Via Voice can be downloaded and installed. In fact I am pretty much using Via Voice on all my machines (5 different ones all up) and have personally found it the best when the speed is increased.

So when can I start to see affordable TTS consumer products?
Cost and processing have been the two draw backs to date, and it appears that both are just about solved.

There are a number of software based TTS engines that are now available on Windows CE and other embedded OS's (QNX for example). I am pretty sure that the freely available source for Festival speech engine would also port quite simply. Still they do need a pretty powerful processor which is the cost drawback. As is the issue of licensing which is also still quite expensive.

There is recently a single chip hardware solution - the sound is pretty bad, but at 7USD for volume purchases, it certainly heralds a change and some hope that within the next 3 - 5 years, we can begin to see products designed and useable at a more GPP (General Public Price), rather than the current 3 to 4 times the price. Even better, the same product with a speech interface that we all use....

Winbond Chip maker TTS Chip Details


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