The App That Helps Blind People See

The App That Helps Blind People See

A new app combines artificial intelligence with a smartphone’s camera to tell users what colors, pictures and objects it is seeing. The first time Mark Edwards used Aipoly Vision, he cried. Edwards, 56 and legally blind since birth, had signed up as an early tester for the smartphone app that claims to help the visually impaired people “see” the world around them. “When it immediately told me what was surrounding me, I was completely overcome with tears of joy,” says Edwards. “That doesn’t happen very often to a middle-aged man.” Other early users of the app have called it “game changing” and on par with self-driving cars for its potential to transform the lives of blind people. Born out of the Singularity University in California—an institution set up in 2008 at NASA Research Park to produce “exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”—Aipoly Vision combines recent advances in artificial intelligence with the standard technology found in an iPhone. The neural networks and deep learning algorithms that power it may be complex, but how it works is simple: Users point their phone at any day-to-day object and the app speaks out what it is seeing. “When we were first coming up with the idea we spoke to 88 blind people and asked what they wanted,” says Marita Cheng, one of the app’s creators. “We found that their biggest frustration was having to ask what things are.” Before Aipoly Vision, a visually impaired person travelling solo had only one option besides asking for help: to rely on apps that use volunteers to help identify things via video calls. But that can be time-consuming. “The thing that’s special about our app is that it’s all done in real time,” Cheng says. “Current methods require an Internet connection and can take anywhere up […]