Camera system helps the visually impaired view presentations

Vision system helps the visually impaired view presentations

A visually impaired student has helped to develop a vision-based system called the Note-Taker that could help thousands of other individuals with similar conditions to view classroom and business presentations.

When initially searching for assistive technology, David Hayden found board magnifiers to be bulky, expensive, and of such poor visual quality that a single university-sized chalkboard could not be viewed. Most also require special carrying cases that did not fit on the small desks in classrooms. After a fruitless search, he decided to build his own.

The result is the Note-Taker -- a portable device that includes a custom-designed video camera that can be attached to a Windows Tablet PC. The camera streams video from a presentation or lecture onto one half of the tablet's split-screen display, where the camera's aim and zoom can be controlled through a touch interface. A second window allows the student to take handwritten or typed notes into Microsoft OneNote.

The system uses a FireFly MV camera from Point Grey (Richmond, BC, Canada) and a varifocal lens capable of resolving materials on a white- or black-board in a classroom from distances between 5 - 40 feet. The camera and lens are attached to a foldable tripod which can also clamp onto a desk. The entire hardware portion is no heavier than a can of soda and barely taller.

By making the Note-Taker portable, discreet and affordable, Hayden hopes that the Note-Taker will improve job prospects for the more than 60 per cent of legally blind individuals who are not employed.

The Note-Taker is currently in final beta testing with a number of students ranging in age from 7 – 52. The units are available for sale in limited quantities. Once the trials are concluded, Hayden plans to promote the Note-Taker more aggressively, including establishing distribution with standard assistive technology suppliers and funding agencies.

-- by Dave Wilson, Senior Editor, Vision Systems Design

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