Qualcomm develops eyes-free smartphone for the blind and visually impaired, calls it Ray

Smartphones have made juggling multiple single-purpose gadgets a thing of the past for many, but the blind and visually impaired often use a raft of devices built with eyes-free use in mind. Qualcomm and Project Ray, however, are aiming to consolidate phone calls, text messaging with voice read-out, navigation, object recognition, audio book reading and more for the visually impaired in a system built on an off-the-shelf Android phone. To navigate the smartphone, users leverage a handful of simple finger movements that can be started at any point on the handset's touch screen. Voice prompts and vibration provide feedback to users, and the UI adapts to usage patterns and preferences. Currently, Ray devices have access to Israel's Central Library for the Blind and are being tested by 100 folks in the country. For the full lowdown, head past the break for the press release.

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Qualcomm and Project RAY Announce the Development of an Eye-Free Mobile Device to Facilitate Daily Life for Blind and Visually Impaired People

-- Based on an off-the-Shelf Smartphone and Featuring a Unique User Interface, the Project RAY Device Enhances Quality of Life and Promotes Independence --

TEL AVIV, Israel and SAN DIEGO, Oct. 22, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM), through its Wireless Reach™ initiative, and Project RAY Ltd., which designs accessibility tools for blind and visually impaired people, today announced that they have developed the RAY mobile device, an always-on, easy-to-use, multi-function, smartphone that is synchronized with Israel's Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped audio books content. This collaboration sets a new standard in accessibility tools and ease of use for visually impaired people.

According to the World Health Organization, "285 million people are visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 have low vision...About 65 percent of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older, while this age group comprises about 20 percent of the world's population. With an increasing elderly population in many countries, more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment."

Today, the majority of blind and visually impaired people use simple 2G mobile phones for voice telephony only. In addition, they depend on an array of specialty devices, such as audio book-readers, color readers, navigation tools, raised Braille labels, special bar-code scanners, and large-buttoned, voice-enabled MP3 players which are prohibitively expensive. Based on an off-the-shelf Android OS smartphone powered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.'s Qualcomm Snapdragon™ processor, the Project RAY device integrates the capabilities of smartphone technology and the capabilities of these multiple specialty devices into a single, cost-effective handset with 24/7 mobile broadband connectivity and a UI designed for eye-free interaction. A trial project is currently underway that is testing the new system with 100 participants throughout Israel.

"The breakthrough UI defines a new language for human-device interaction that is built ground-up for eye-free operation," said Boaz Zilberman, chief executive officer of Project RAY. "The user touches any position on the screen and that position becomes the starting point for selecting an audio-book, messaging or other activity. Navigation is enabled by a few simple finger movements in different directions. The phone's built-in vibration capabilities and voice prompts provide user feedback and the UI learns to adapt its behavior based on users' preferences and usage patterns."

The UI supports a rich set of services, including phone calls, text messaging with vocal read-out, navigation, object recognition, social network services, remote assistance, audio-book reading, and other leisure and entertainment offerings.

"Audio-books, magazines and periodicals are an important method for accessing information for blind and visually impaired people, but the current system requires renting items by mail, which is not timely. Subscribers can now use RAY devices to easily access and download audio assets from the library over an advanced mobile broadband network, rather than waiting to receive CD copies," said Amos Beer, chief executive officer of the Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped. "Our library is delighted to be working with Qualcomm and Project RAY to build a system enabling people with vision impairments to remotely access and download audio assets from the library. Also, the system is being designed specifically for Project RAY devices and specific user identities to ensure digital rights management protection for copyrighted material."

"We believe the Project RAY device will enhance the ability of blind and visually impaired people to access resources and information independently," said Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel for Qualcomm. "This project, which is part of our Wireless Reach initiative, demonstrates one of the many ways Qualcomm technology can improve people's lives and we are proud to support this important program."