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A phone app for the visually impaired

A phone app for the visually impaired
[Photo: Mauricio Alejo]

Designed with input from 12 visually impaired Microsoft employees, the Seeing AI app has given 150,000 visually impaired people around the world this year new insights into their surroundings by empowering their phones to tell them what it sees. Thanks to image recognition and artificial intelligence, users can aim their phones at almost anything and receive a vocal announcement of what it is. Facial-recognition technology enables the app not only to name friends as they approach but also suggest whether they appear to be in a good or bad mood. It can also read printed text in books or newspapers aloud.

Microsoft engineers continue to refine Seeing AI as they process user-engagement data. “We learned we can’t anticipate how the app will be used,” says Anirudh Koul, senior data scientist at Microsoft and Seeing AI project lead. Examples of creative use include:

  • Scanning restaurant menus to figure out what to eat;
  • Using the color-detection feature to select outfits;
  • Spotting downed power lines after storms;
  • Using handwriting recognition to make sure children have completed their homework;
  • Reading subtitles in foreign films;
  • Using age and gender detection as customers enter a store;
  • Reading the serial number on the back of a computer or television.

Microsoft is a winner, finalist and honorable mention in the 2018 Innovation By Design Awards. Check out all the honorees here.

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