Tuesday, April 20, 2010

LookTel: A Revolutionary New App for the Visually Impaired

This is a guest post by by Greg Bartlett. Contact me if you'd like to submit an article.

On March 24th, the CTIA E-Tech Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada gave first place in the healthcare category to LookTel, an amazing new smartphone app that employs smart video, artificial intelligence, and GPS tracking to provide a tremendous service to the visually impaired. The app acts as an extra set of eyes for the user, using the smartphone’s camera to identify common items and even read basic text.

The user can hold his or her smartphone in front of a common item indistinguishable to the visually impaired, such as a five dollar bill, and the application will run an advanced image-recognition codec to identify the object and name it out loud with the phone’s speaker. The app comes pre-programmed with plenty of items, and users can train it to recognize even more particular items they interact with on a daily basis.

The app also contains advanced text-recognition software that will read print publications like magazines and newspapers, or even signs and other items before unseen by the visually impaired or even the aging.
Understanding that not everything could be recognized by a software program, the app’s designers also included a feature which allows users to transmit pictures and video to a friend or loved one who can see the user’s position (thanks to the phone’s GPS tracking capabilities) and let him or her know what the app can’t identify.

You can see a video demo of the app in action here.

The app is developed by Ipplex, a communications software research and development firm which specializes in innovative mobile cross-platform solutions. Its use of GPS tracking, common smartphones, and telemedicine know-how is starting to receive a good deal of attention from the medical community. Ipplex wrote and tested LookTel with the help of funding from the National Institute of Health, the National Eye Institute, and the National Institute on Aging, along with researchers from the Atlanta Research and Education Foundation.

LookTel represents a new wave of augmented reality software—programs which process visual or aural information from real-world environments and present new, addition data to the user in a helpful way. Applications are often seen in the world of video games, where Microsoft’s new Natal camera for the Xbox 360 is poised to become a radically new means of interacting with virtual realms. But mobile uses in the area of medicine are obvious.

As technologies like visual recognition software and GPS tracking find new and varied applications in the world of medicine, we can certainly expect that smartphones will provide a common platform for implementation for both doctors and their patients.

This guest post is written by Greg Bartlett who runs Copy-hub.com. He specializes in writing about health and technology, including GPS and insurance, and has earned two master’s degrees. 

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