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Audio markers that read out to visually impaired

Designed by Industrial Design Centre at IIT-B, device consists of an audio label and a pen.

mumbai Updated: Dec 12, 2010 01:25 IST
Snehal Rebello

It could change the way visually impaired move around their homes and in the city.

The Industrial Design Centre at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) has designed audio markers, a system of standardised plates with an audio code identification, which can be easily be fitted anywhere. On placing an audio pen over these markers, the visually impaired can hear the preset audio information.

“All environments must be barrier free. We need to evolve a standardised system that will ensure all public places are accessible,” said Professor Kirti Trivedi, who has designed the audio markers. “These markers would bring a great sense of independence to the visually impaired.”

The markers can be fixed on CD cases and medicine bottles as well as on house doors and office cubicles.

Having made the prototype in one month, Trivedi proposed his design as a system for urban navigation in Vienna at Space X — an exchange forum on information design for the visually impaired in October.

At present, though there are similar markers available abroad, in countries like Japan, they are very expensive and their cost runs into hundreds of dollars. Pegging his design as an affordable solution and hence easily diffusible, Trivedi said these audio marker labels would cost around Rs10, while the one-time investment on the audio pen will be around $15 (approx Rs700).

Essentially, these labels are installed with an invisible code. When the MP3 audio pen equipped with an optical reader is placed on the code, the visually impaired person can hear the audio message. For instance, at a bus stop the label would have a bus number as the code and as the pen is placed on the label the person would hear the bus route.

Likewise, the audio marker when placed near a monument will read out its history. With the aim to make existing buildings user-friendly for the visually impaired, the audio markers can be fixed as house numbers as well as at railways stations, airports and in offices.

These labels could also be fixed on spines of Braille books. So rather than moving his fingers through every book title in Braille, the visually impaired person will just have to place the pen on the labels and listen to the book.

“In order to build a more accessible environment, both at home and externally, such a concept is definitely needed,” said Sam Taraporevala, director, Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged. “But what is essential is that it should have a cost advantage over its readily available counterparts, both in terms of the hand-held device and labels in order to make it viable.”

Having designed these markers, Trivedi's next step is to conduct a pilot test to check its effectiveness. “To design a comprehensive system, we need a dedicated web-based support system and a portal where upgrades and downloads for different cities can be obtained,” said Trivedi.