Enable Ireland’s National Assistive Technology Service has gathered together information on a range of accessible toys. It includes a variety of accessible games, apps, and toys. These are not recommendations but simply a selection of items which may be of interest, particularly at times such as Christmas and birthdays, when presents are high on the list of priorities.
Available here as Accessible-Apps-Games-and-Toys (pdf) and Accessible-Apps-Games-and-Toys (Word document)
The app under scrutiny is Seeing AI by Microsoft. I have heard about his project around a year ago, wukst looking for material for lectures that I delivered at the University of Malta and the Institute for Tourism Studies. It is during a train-the-trainer course held by Enable Ireland in conjunction with MCAST where it surmised that this app became available for download.
Before going into some detail, my view on this app is highly-positive. Having said that, the app is not without faults but nevertheless I believe that it has potentially great development potential.
Seeing AI features
I noted that this app has a number of channels, each of which has specific functions. One of them is reading short text (such as business card). There is also a channel that enables one to read handwriting, as well as a channel to reading documents (such as letters). Thisapp also features scene description, besides being able to recognise people (including facilal expressions). Moreover, this app could detect and spell out colours, as well as able to indicate the extent of light intensity of the user’s surrounding environment.
One thing that I noted is that the app could function in various light settings, both in well-lit environments and in low-light conditions. In the case of the latter, the LED light automatically turns on. I also noted that for some channels – particularly short text – no internet connection is needed, which could be a plus in some situations where the user has no internet connection. For others, notably scene description and the reading of documents, internet connection is a must.
Decription of scenes and objects is good, but it’s not flawless. One particular incident comes to mind. At some point in time whilst demonstrating this app to some members of my family, I pointed my iPhone’s camera at an empty can of beer. The response from the device was,”Probably a cup of coffee”, which caused some laughter!
Seeing AI has a feature that guesses the age of the person at whom the iPhone’s camera is pointed. Whilst this can be accurate at times, there are times where the response from the app can be off the mark. One should acknowledge however that there are people who appear younger or older than their actual age.
When it comes to reading typed documents, the app is truly handy. It was able to read typed material. What I also liked is its ability to read handwriting quire accurately. On the other hand, when it comes to description of facial expression, the app tends to be spot on.
When it comes to identification of colour, the app can be handy. Having said that, one should note that the colour description may vary depending on the position of the object vis-a’-vis the user and the light source.
As mentioned in the preceding section, the device can give an audio feedback (by means of a tone), with the higher the pitch of the tone meaning the more intense the light. This could be practical to users who have no lights perception, whereby they can use such an app to chech as to check they have turned off the lights in the room they are to exit.
When it comes to donwsides, a particular issue is battery consumption. The more frequent one uses the app, the faster the iPhone’s battery drains. As a solution, I bought a portable external power supply, and thus reducing the likelihood of ending up with a mobile with a flat battery whilst being away from home or work.
Another issue that I observed is that this app so far is limited to iOS-perated devices such as iPhone or iPad. This has the implication that users with visual impairment who do not have smartphones with an operating system other than iOS is off-limits to them. However, from what I have read, it seems that Microsoft will be addressing this in the foreseeable future.
Another issue is that when using certain channels, internet connection is a must. This could restrict its use in situations where there is no Wi-Fi connection. Depending on the extent of use of channels requiring internet connection, the use of mobile internet alone is not feasible as it could drain your internet credit after a short while.
As mentioned above, Seeing AI is a worthwhile tool with great potential for development. It has some flaws, some of which can be addressed by the developer. When it comes to battery power, I recommend that the user is to have a portable external battery at hand, although it may help if the app is designed in such a way to make it more power-efficient.
There are some other suggestions in how to make improvements on this app. I believe that it could be practical in some situations if the Seeing AI app is paired with boice assisted technology in order to execute a certain command, such as scene description. Another recommendation is enhancement of the app to address glitches in scene/object description. I believe that it could also be a good idea if the app could support an external camera, thereby enabling use of the smartphone whilst it is stowed in a pocket (and with the app activated by voice commands by the user).
Thanks, Michael, interesting review of the Seeing AI app. Maybe I will add to this to the Accessible games, apps, and toys document when I update it again.