New Tech for 2019: A Wrap-up of the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference
Author: J.J. Meddaugh
Date Written: Feb 23, 2019 at 4:00 PM
Date Saved: 2/24/19, 10:59 AM
2019 looks to be a busy year for new products and innovations, as evidenced by the exhibit hall at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) annual conference in Orlando. This year’s event was held January 30 through February 2 at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Convention Center and featured an array of devices from transportable video magnifiers to tech toys for kids and seniors. I’ve recapped some of the major highlights below. AFB AccessWorld also sponsored exhibit hall coverage on Blind Bargains, and links are included to audio interviews with text transcripts where appropriate.
The BrailleNote Touch Gets Refreshed
Humanware’s BrailleNote Touch has been a popular option for students and teachers since its release in 2016. But the hybrid touchscreen and braille keyboard device has been stuck on an outdated version of Android due to hardware limitations.
Humanware sought to modernize the notetaker with the announcement of the BrailleNote Touch Plus. It has basically the same shell and shape as its predecessor, but includes a faster processor, a USBC port for charging, and the Android 8.1 Oreo operating system. As Humanware’s Andrew Flatters explains in this Blind Bargains interview, moving to a modern version of Android allows Humanware to take advantage of up-to-date features such as the Chrome Web browser and the Google Assistant for voice commands. The unit also includes 4GB of memory and 64GB of built-in storage as well as support for more modern wireless and Bluetooth protocols.
Orders can be placed now for the BrailleNote Touch Plus in either 18- or 32-cell configurations, at $4,195 and $5,695 respectively. Current BrailleNote Touch users can upgrade to the new model, which will transplant the existing braille cells to a new unit, for $1,295.
A Braille Display of a Different Kind
The cost of a 32- or 18-cell braille display is still prohibitive for many people, so a company called BraiBook is offering an alternative idea with a product of the same name. The mouse-sized device includes a single braille cell and can be loaded with books in several formats. Characters are displayed in contracted or uncontracted braille a cell at a time, and the speed can be controlled using a joystick. A headphone jack allows the user to plug in an external headset or speaker to hear words as they are displayed. The small size and weight of the unit is its major advantage. But reading braille one cell at a time can be either tediously slow or nearly impossible, depending on the speed of the unit, potentially requiring a sharp learning curve. Priced at around $450, it faces an uphill climb against the likes of the Orbit Reader and BrailleMe, two 20-cell units available for about the same price. Hear more with an interview with BraiBook CEO Sébastien Lefebvre.
Magnified Options for People with Low Vision Revealed
There was no shortage of new video magnifying options on display at the conference. This year’s focus was on updates to what are often referred to as transportable video magnifiers, units that generally will sit on a desk but are light enough to be moved around if necessary.
Irie-AT is introducing the ReadEasy Evolve to the United States, a video magnifier that can capture an entire 11-by-17-inch sheet of paper in a single picture, useful for large items such as newspaper pages. Capturing is accomplished by moving the camera between two different mounting points. The lower camera hole is designed to read standard-sized paper, while the elevated slot is for larger documents. It was quick and painless to move the camera between the two slots. As for the actual reading of text, this was accomplished within about 4 seconds, though the company is working to make this even faster. Speech was clear using modern voices from the Vocalizer speech engine, and the optional keypad can be used for finer control. An optional monitor can be attached for users with low vision.
The 4-pound ReadEasy Evolve folds so it can be taken with you, and will run on an optional battery pack. The base unit is available from Irie-AT for about $2,000. You can listen to a demo with Irie-AT CEO Jeff Gardner who also talks about a new affordable braille embosser called the Braille Buddy.
Back over at the Humanware booth, two new and slightly heavier desktop magnifiers were announced, the Reveal 16 and Reveal 16I. Weighing in at a still transportable 13 pounds, Humanware is targeting these two models at two very different markets. The Reveal 16 is designed for seniors and elementary school students who desire a simple unit with basic controls. It features only four buttons: power, autofocus, zoom, and contrast. Images can be magnified from 1X to 45X and displayed in a variety of contrast modes. The camera can either point down at the base of the unit or be pointed outward for distance viewing.
Advanced users may prefer the Reveal 16I, which offers the same features as the basic model but adds a touchscreen, an OCR camera, and a fifth button, used for switching to an Android 7 tablet. Users of the Prodigi interface will be familiar with this mode, which can be used to read books aloud or run Android apps from Google Play.
Both models collapse and can be carried using an optional case. The Reveal 16 retails for $2,995 while the Reveal 16I sells for $3,995. Learn more with Humanware’s Eric Beauchamp who talks everything low-vision in this podcast.
A New Kind of Wearable
There weren’t as many wearables in the hall as in 2018, but Zoomax was showing a new take on the category. The Acesight is a lightweight headset that displays images using augmented reality. Individual screens are centered over each eye and display magnified images of what’s in front of you. This approach allows you to focus on what’s ahead of you while using your peripheral vision to see other items at the same time. Magnification is available in a variety of contrast modes from 1.1X to 15X. The Acesight will be available soon for $4,995. Learn more from Zoomax’s David Bradburn in this podcast.
Teaching Braille and Code to Kids
The American Printing House for the Blind was showing two products designed to teach important concepts to children who are visually impaired. BrailleBuzz is a toy designed for kids ages 2-5 to teach braille letters. The bumblebee-shaped toy includes buttons for each braille letter that announce the letter or its sound when pressed. A 6-cell Perkins-style braille keyboard is positioned below and will speak the braille letter that is typed, or play a sound if something besides a braille letter is entered. The BrailleBuzz is designed in the style of other audio-based children’s toys that teach basic letter and phonics concepts. It’s available now for $99.
Older kids may love Code Jumper, an educational toy collaboration between APH and Microsoft for teaching basic coding concepts. More and more kids are learning how to write code for computers or mobile devices, and many systems have been created to teach early foundations and concepts at a young age. Code Jumper is one of the first of these systems to be fully accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired.
The brains of the device are housed in the Code Jumper Hub, a Bluetooth device that will play back sounds or music based on what it is connected to. You may not be familiar with programming concepts such as loops, constants, or if statements, but the hands-on approach to the connected pods illustrates these and more to the most novice student or teacher. APH also plans on developing lessons for both teachers and students to complement the system. You can sign up for a waiting list to be informed when the product is released, likely later this year.
A New Guide for Seniors
Dolphin has completely rewritten the software it designed to simplify the Internet for seniors. The new GuideConnect allows you to read and write emails, listen to radio stations, read books, and browse the Web using a simplified interface. The Windows 10 software runs on computers, tablets, and can even be displayed on a TV using a customized set-top box and a remote control, similar to a Roku. The product will be available from Irie-AT in the United States starting at around $800, depending on options. You can listen to Gareth Collins talk about the benefits of the new software and other Dolphin developments in this podcast.
The ATIA conference was busier than in past years, and several major products were announced over the four-day event. We will continue to follow many of these products as they are released, and review some of them in future issues of AccessWorld. The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, our next big opportunity to learn about new technology, moves to Anaheim this year and will be March 11-15. If you can’t make it, you can read about it right here.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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