[AI] The KnfbReader Mobile:

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Sun May 4 08:47:24 EDT 2008

                           The KnfbReader Mobile:
                          An Individual Perspective
                            by Michael D. Barber
      From the Editor: Michael Barber is president of the NFB of Iowa. He
is also a technology specialist who works at the Iowa Department for the
Blind. He has been using the new knfbReader Mobile. Here is his report:
      It is late Thursday evening, and I have just checked into my motel
room in a small Iowa town. After I get my computer set up (always a high
priority), I start looking around for printed material I know exists in
this room. For instance, I want to know what TV channels are available. I
search to the left of the TV, and there it is--a letter-sized sheet of
      From my pocket I take my Nokia N82 cell phone and turn it on by
pressing a button on the top of the phone. Soon I hear the familiar Nokia
music sounds letting me know the phone is active. Then I press a button
just to the left and a bit above the five-way scroll box on the phone. I
hear a message that says, "Hello. I am the knfbReader Mobile."
      Yes, that's right, reading software is now available in a small cell
phone. Ray Kurzweil, the world-acclaimed inventor, promised us six years
ago that by 2008 we would enjoy reading portability we could put in our
shirt pockets, and now it's here. It's the knfbReader Mobile, and it does
fit in my shirt pocket.
      This is amazing to me considering where all this began. You see, I
remember the very first reading machine back in 1976. That machine took up
two tables and cost about $50,000. It was Ray Kurzweil who invented that
machine as a result of a conversation he had on an airplane with a blind
person who told him that, although he could accomplish many tasks
independently, it would be nice if he could read printed material on his
own. Back in those days we were impressed with a machine that could scan
and read back to us a letter, a memo, or even a book. Even then Mr.
Kurzweil was promising reading portability within the next twenty-five
      Years went by, and many of us will remember the Arkenstone and
Arkenclone machines, the VERA, and other systems that helped us to read the
printed page. But none of these was portable. We first saw portability as a
reality in 2005 with the advent of the Kurzweil-National Federation of the
Blind Reader. This was comprised of a standard PDA with a digital camera
attached to it. With this device we could read our mail, office memos,
printed receipts, and later U.S. currency. Portable as this was, it was
still too bulky to put into a pocket comfortably.
      But now we have a truly portable reading device combined with a cell
phone. With the addition of screen-reading software such as Mobile Speaks
or Talks, it is now possible to access the other functions of the phone,
including making and receiving phone calls and managing personal
information such as names and phone numbers of contacts and appointments in
the calendar. The phone also offers an accessible GPS program, an Adobe PDF
reading program, a voice recorder, a music player, and much more. Wonderful
as it is, this particular phone, the Nokia N82, offers access to AT&T or T-
Mobile only. It will not work with Verizon, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, or other
non-GSM networks.
      The Nokia N82 is about the size of a Milky Way candy bar, and unlike
too many other cell phones, its keypad is very easy to feel. The buttons
have just the right amount of space between them and are raised enough so
that they can be located easily by touch. And the phone has two gigabytes
of memory. (For those of you who may not be techno geeks like me, that's a
whale of a lot of memory.) Above the keypad is a square box, which is
called the five-way scroll box. This box contains up, down, left, right,
and enter buttons. To the left of the box is a button that activates
different functions, depending on what area of the button you press.
Pressing the top of this square button will activate the knfbReader Mobile.
Pressing the very small button on the extreme left edge of the phone will
activate the phone's Send feature. Pressing the bottom edge of the button
will bring up the phone's main menu. To the right of the five-way scroll
box is the End Call button, the top edge of which can be pressed to exit
the knfbReader Mobile. If you turn the phone around so that the back of it
is facing you, you'll find a slide switch that moves from left to right.
When this switch is moved to the left, the camera lens is closed; when it's
moved to the right, the lens is open, and you can take a picture.
      Back in my motel room I position the cell phone over the page and
about a foot above it. My finger moves to the bottom edge of the five-way
scroll box, and I gently press it. knfbReader Mobile announces, "Taking
picture," followed by the sound of a camera snapping a picture. This is
followed by some fifteen seconds in which I hear periodic beeps while the
image is being processed. Then I hear the various channels available to me.
My curiosity leads me to other printed material in the room, and I learn
that, if I had forgotten my toothpaste, toothbrush, or shaving cream, all I
would have to do is to call the front desk to get help. Most important,
though, I can tell which package of coffee is not decaffeinated.
Additionally, I am able to use the reader to read the dialing instructions
on the room phone just above its keypad.
      But that's not all this device is capable of. I recently visited an
ATM machine and withdrew $50. I had three bills. I knew that one was a ten-
dollar bill, but which one? All I had to do was to position the reader
above the bill and press the zero key on the keypad. A picture was taken,
and the bill was recognized as the ten I was looking for. And, by pressing
the pound key followed by the zero, I could tell whether I was looking at
the back or front of the bill and which direction it was facing.
      You can customize the reader by changing the many user settings
available to you. For example, by pressing the number 7 key on the keypad,
you can enter the audio settings and change the rate, pitch, and volume of
the speech as well as changing to any installed voice. If you have some
vision, you can adjust the size of the print on the screen by pressing the
number 9 key and choosing between small, medium, and large. There is also a
setting here for turning the display off.
      Thus far I've been able to read my personal mail (including bills,
junk mail, etc.), some catalogs, pages in a phone book, memos, receipts,
and business cards. As noted earlier, I've also been able to scan and
recognize various denominations of bills. Additionally, I was visiting a
financial institution very recently where I was waiting for my wife to fill
out a document. In front of me on the counter was a stack of printed
material. I almost forgot and asked my wife what they were, but then I
remembered I had my knfbReader Mobile with me and found that it was a
personal survey a person could take to see if he or she was ready for
      I have been impressed with the clarity of speech from this little
device as well as the accuracy of the optical character recognition. As
with any scanning and reading software, you do not always get 100 percent
accuracy, but in many instances it's very close. Reading catalogs or
magazines with a lot of colored text can sometimes be a challenge and may
slow down the recognition process.
      So how does this device compare with Kurzweil 1000 and OpenBook, the
two desktop solutions that are in wide use today? The most obvious
comparison is that you can scan and read documents with all three systems.
You can also scan and recognize currency with all three systems. All three
systems will let you save your scanned document, but both OpenBook and
Kurzweil 1000 allow you to save your document in many different file
formats. The huge difference is portability. With both Kurzweil and
OpenBook, you must have both a computer and scanner, and neither of these
is truly portable. With the knfbReader Mobile, you have a system that truly
can be carried in a pocket.
      As I think about the future of this device, I would like to see the
A few more available file formats for saving documents; right now there is
only one.
The ability to send a file to yourself or someone else by email.
The ability to use a Braille display so those who are deaf-blind can enjoy
reading portability.
      All in all, this is an excellent piece of technology and will prove
to be very useful to me both at home and at work. It will be very useful
for the person attending conferences or seminars where there may be
handouts. It would also be useful for the college student who goes to a
class where the instructor distributes handouts that must be read
immediately. I do not recommend using the knfbReader Mobile to recognize
money handed back to you while you're at the head of a long checkout line
at a department store or supermarket; the task of scanning each bill is
still time consuming.
      Finally, I found that the excellent audio tutorial, narrated by James
Gashel, was very easy to follow and had me up and running in no time at
all. Everything you need to know about the reader to get you started
scanning documents or recognizing currency is delivered in very clear
      You can obtain more information about the knfbReader Mobile,
including where to buy, directly from knfbReader Technologies. The Web
address is <http://www.knfbreader.com/products-mobile.php>. The phone
number to call is (877) 547-1500. The knfbReader Mobile sells for $2,195.
This price includes the reading software and the Nokia N82 phone but not a
calling plan or the Talks or Mobile Speak software.

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