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November 15, 2017updated 16 Nov 2017 11:28am

Microsoft launches Seeing AI app for partially sighted in Britain

Automatic text-detection and audio output will help the partially-sighted connect with people and their environment.

By CBR Staff Writer

Microsoft is aiming to boost participation of the partially sighted in Britain in the workplace by rolling out its AI powered app, ‘Seeing AI’.

The tech giant rolled out its image processing software for iOS in Britain and Australia after releasing it in the US and East Asia earlier this year.

Seeing AI allows users to recognise text, scan barcodes, store friends’ faces and hear a description of a scene captured. A feature called “Recognize with Seeing AI” gives an audio description of images in other apps, including photos, pictures from emails, on Twitter and more. Documents can be quickly analysed for content and format and text is spoken aloud as soon as it is captured by an iOS camera.

Sight loss indirectly costs the UK economy over £4.3 billion due to knock-on effects such as unpaid carer costs and reduced employment rates, according to the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB). More than two million people in the UK live with sight loss, and almost half feel “moderately” or “completely” cut-off from people and things around then, the RNIB report.

Microsoft first unveiled the technology at its AI summit in London this July after it was developed during the company’s annual hackathon.

Saqib Shaikh, who is himself partially sighted, led the development of Seeing AI from Microsoft’s offices in UK. Mr Shaikh said the software offers increased “independence” for people with less-than-perfect vision.

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“As someone who is visually impaired, this has become a key tool in my daily life, and I look forward to others in the UK benefitting from it, too,” he said.

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Chief Executive Satya Nadella told how the free app gives visually-impaired colleague Angela Mills more independence in work and her hobbies. “She can go to the salad area and use the app on her phone to read the labels of the salads before choosing one by herself,” Mr. Nadella said, “She can walk confidently into a conference room, knowing for sure she’s in the right place with the right people.”

Some customers have requested a version for Android too, with others suggesting the app would benefit from character recognition software.

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