[AI] Free, email-based 'RoboBraille' helps the blind to read

Shiv shivraheja at gmail.com
Sun May 11 03:25:59 EDT 2008

Free, email-based 'RoboBraille' helps the blind to read

Posted On Friday, May 09, 2008

A free, email-based service that translates text into Braille and audio
recordings is helping bridge the information gap for blind and visually
impaired people, giving them quick and easy access to books, news articles
and Web pages.

Developed by European researchers, the RoboBraille service offers a unique
solution to the problem of converting text into Braille and audio without
having to operate complicated software.

"We discovered that users found Braille programs difficult to use. So we
searched for a simpler solution," explains project co-ordinator Lars Ballieu
Christensen, who also works for Synscenter Refsnaes, a Danish centre for
visually impaired children.

The result was RoboBraille, a service that requires no more skill with a
computer than the ability to send an email.

Users simply attach a text they want to translate into one of several
recognised formats, from plain text and Word documents to HTML and XML.
Then, they email the text to the service's server.

Once the email is received, software agents automatically begin the process
of translating the text into Braille, or converting it into an audio
recording through a text-to-speech engine.

"The type of output and the language depends on the e-mail address the user
sends the text to," Christensen says. "A document sent to
britspeech at robobraille.org would be converted into spoken British English,
while a text sent to textoparabraille at robobraille.org would be translated
from Portuguese into six-dot Braille."

The user then receives the translation by email, which can be read on a
Braille printer or on a tactile display - a device connected to the PC with
a series of pins that are raised or lowered to represent Braille characters.

At present, the service translates an average of 500 documents a day,
although it could handle as many as 14,000. RoboBraille can return a simple
text in Braille in under a minute, while taking as long as 10 hours to
provide an audio recording of a book.

As of January, the RoboBraille system had carried out over 2.5 lakh

RoboBraille can currently translate text written in English, Danish,
Italian, Greek and Portuguese into Braille and speech. The service can also
handle text-to-speech conversions in French and Lithuanian.

Christensen and his team are constantly working on adding new languages to
the service. They are also working on making the service compatible with PDF
documents and text scanned from images.

In addition to the blind and visually impaired, the service can also help
dyslexics, people with reading difficulties and the illiterate, the
researchers say.

More information about the service can be found at www.robobraille.org.


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