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  • Chinese scientists develop cheap e-notebook for the blind

Image credit: Claire Vukcevic/USAID

Speed read

  • The e-notebook can translate Braille into Chinese characters using a computer

  • It is due to go on sale in China later this year for up to US$130

  • Versions that translate Braille into other languages could be developed in the future

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have developed and tested a prototype electronic notebook for blind people that is designed to be cheap to manufacture.

The e-notebook, called B-Notes, allows people to take notes or memos using Braille or by recording speech. It is similar in size to a mobile phone.

B-Notes makes use of technologies developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Computing Technology (ICT), including translation software.

Wang Xiangdong, technical leader of the ICT team that developed the device, says that Braille can be conveniently input using a panel on the e-notebook. "And when [B-Notes is] connected to a computer, the Braille-Chinese translation software can be used to convert Braille into Chinese characters automatically," he says.Prototype e-notebooks were trialled on ten blind people last month (5 January).

Currently, there are almost 39 million blind people in the world, according to the WHO. And according to the China Disabled Persons' Federation, there are more than 12 million visually disabled people in China.

Wang tells SciDev.Net that the basic technological research for the e-notebooks has been completed and they are expected to be available in China later this year at a cost of 500 to 800 renminbi (around US$80 to $130).

The e-notebook has three main features. First is the Braille input. The e-notebook's input panel has an array of mini keys that allows users to type.

Second is the intelligent translation system, which is up to 95 per cent accurate. When the e-notebook is connected to a computer, pre-installed software moves all Braille in the device over to the computer and translates it into Chinese characters.

Third, the e-notebook has a voice interface. There are voice prompts to guide users through the device's various operations.

Currently, the notebook can only translate Chinese Braille to Chinese characters. But Wang says that if other countries express an interest in the device, it will be possible to produce e-notebooks that translate other versions of Braille into other languages.

The blind people who tested the prototype notebooks told developers that they found them portable and easy to use.

A spokesperson for the Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology, which is sponsoring the e-notebook's development, says the notebooks could support blind people in their everyday working and living.

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