A smart screen that helps visually impaired shop online

Representational image

There is a new smart screen to help the visually impaired users shop online without much assistance. Chinese tech giant Alibaba has introduced the smart screen after a two year research and development effort.

As TechCrunch reports, the screen, called Smart Touch, is like a silicone layer which can be added to the top of a smartphone screen. Till now people with visual impairment relied on others or on text-to-speech machines to shop online but it had limitations.

Alibaba’s ‘Smart Touch” plastic sheet for the visually impaired.
Photo credit: Alibaba

A joint effort with China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, the cheap silicone sheet that goes on top of smartphone screens costs about 3.6 cents to produce. It has three mini buttons on each side which are sensory-enabled. By pressing these buttons, certain commands are triggered, such as ‘go back’ and ‘confirm’, making online shopping a smoother process, the report said.

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Smart Touch is also useful while answering calls, listening to texts, and so on. Smart Touch isn’t just for fingers. It also works when users hold their phones up to the ears. This lets them listen to text quickly in public without having to blast it out through speakers or headphones. Early trials of ear touch show a 50 percent reduction in time needed to complete tasks like taking calls and online shopping, Alibaba claims, according to the TechCrunch report.

Alibaba’s $15 billion R&D initiative Damo Academy has been working to improve smartphone experience for the blind.

Right now, the research team is testing and refining the product with volunteers. It is also working on making the technology device-agnostic. The film will launch officially early next year.

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“We thought, human-machine interaction can’t just be for sighted people. Besides voice, touch is also very important to the blind, so we decided to develop a touch feature,” Chen Zhao, research director at Damo Academy, told TechCrunch. “Unlike with regular apps, it’s hard to beta test Smart Touch because the blind population is relatively small.”

 

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