Guest Post: Voice Dream Scanner: A New Kind of OCR by Bill Holton, AccessWorld

Voice Dream Scanner: A New Kind of OCR | AccessWorld
Author Bill Holton
9-11 minutes

Bill Holton
There is a new player in the optical character recognition (OCR) space, and it comes from an old friend: Winston Chen, the developer of Voice Dream Reader and Voice Dream Writer, both of which we’ve reviewed in past issues of AccessWorld. In this article we’ll start out with a brief conversation with Chen. Then we’ll take a look at the developer’s latest offering: Voice Dream Scanner. Spoiler alert—it will probably be the best $5.99 you’ll ever spend on a text recognition app!
AccessWorld readers who use their phones to audibly read e-Pub books, PDFs or Bookshare titles are likely already familiar with Voice Dream Reader. It works so well with VoiceOver and TalkBack, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t developed specifically for the access market. But according to Chen, “I just wanted to build a pocket reader I could use to store all my books and files so I could listen to them on the go. No one was more surprised than me when I began receiving feedback from dyslexic and blind users describing how helpful Voice Dream Reader was for their needs and making some simple suggestions to improve the app’s accessibility.”
Chen’s second offering, Voice Dream Writer, was also directed at the mainstream market. “Sometimes it’s easier to proofread your document by listening to it instead of simply rereading the text,” says Chen. At the time, Apple’s VoiceOver cut and paste features and other block text manipulation capabilities were,shall we say, not quite what they are today? The innovative way Chen handled these functions made Voice Dream Writer equally useful to users with visual impairments.
Reinventing the OCR Engine
“I’ve been wanting to add OCR to Voice Dream Reader for a few years now,” says Chen. “It would be useful for reading protected PDF’s and handouts and memos from school and work.”
The hurdle Chen kept encountering was finding a useable OCR engine. “There are some free, open source engines, but they don’t work well enough for my purposes,” he says. “The ones that do work well are quite expensive, either as a one-time license purchase with each app sold or with ongoing pay-by-the-use options. Either of these would have raised the price I have to charge too much for my value proposition.”
Last year, however, Chen began experimenting with Apple’s artificial intelligence (AI), called Vision Framework, that’s built into the latest iOS versions, along with Google’s Tesseract, TensorFlow Lite, and ML Kit.
“Instead of using a single standard OCR engine, I combined the best aspects of each of these freely available tools, and I was pleasantly surprised by the results.”
Instead of making OCR a Voice Dream Reader feature, Chen decided to incorporate his discovery into a separate app called Voice Dream Scanner. “I considered turning it into an in-app purchase, only there are a lot of schools that use Reader and they aren’t allowed to make in-app purchases,” he says. As to why he didn’t simply make it a new Reader feature, he smiles, “I do have a family to feed.”
Chen has been careful to integrate the new Voice Dream Scanner functionality into VD Reader, however. For example, if you load a protected PDF file into the app and open it, the Documents tab now offers a recognition feature. You can now also add to your Voice Dream Reader Library not only from Dropbox, Google Drive, and other sources, including Bookshare, but using your device’s camera as well.
To take advantage of this integration you’ll need both Voice Dream Reader and Voice Dream Scanner. Both can be purchased from the iOS App Store. VD Reader is also available for Android, but currently VD Scanner is iOS only.
Of course you don’t have to have VD Reader to enjoy the benefits of the new Voice Dream Scanner.
A Voice Dream Scanner Snapshot
The app installs quickly and easily, and displays with the icon name “Scanner” on your iOS device. Aim the camera toward a page of text. The app displays a real-time video image preview which is also the “Capture Image” button. Double tap this button, the camera clicks, and the image is converted to text almost immediately. You are placed on the “Play” button, give a quick double tap and the text is spoken using either a purchased VD Reader voice or your chosen iOS voice. Note: You can instruct Scanner to speak recognized text automatically in the Settings Menu.
From the very first beta version of this app I tested, I was amazed by the speed and accuracy of the recognition. The app is amazingly forgiving as far as camera position and lighting. Envelopes read the return addresses, postmarks and addresses. Entire pages of text voiced without a single mistake. Scanner even did an excellent job with a bag of potato chips, even after it was crumpled and uncrumpled several times. Despite the fact there is no OCR engine to download, and the recognition is done locally, a network connection is not required. I used the app with equal success even with Airplane mode turned on.
After each scan you are offered the choice to swipe left once to reach the Discard button, twice to reach the Save button. Note: the VoiceOver two-finger scrub gesture also deletes the current text.
Scanner does not save your work automatically. You have the choice to save it as a text file, a PDF, or to send it directly to Voice Dream Reader. You probably wouldn’t send a single page to Reader, but the app comes with a batch mode. Use this mode to scan several pages at once and then save them together: perfect for that 10-page print report your boss dropped on your desk, or maybe the short story a creative writing classmate passed out for review.
Other Scanner features of interest to those with visual impairments are edge detection and a beta version of auto capture.
Edge detection plays a tone that grows increasingly steady until all four edges are visible, at which time it becomes a solid tone. Auto-capture does just that, but since the AI currently detects any number of squares where there is no text this feature is only available in beta. However, if you’re using a scanner stand it will move along quite nicely, nearly as fast as you can rearrange the pages.
You can also import an image to be recognized. Unfortunately, as of now, this feature is limited to pictures in your photo library. There is currently no way to send an e-mail or file image to Scanner. Look for this to change in an upcoming version.
The benefits of Voice Dream Scanner are by no means limited to the blindness community. Chen developed the app to be used as a pocket player for documents and other printed material he wishes to scan and keep. Low vision users can do the same, then use either iOS magnification or another text-magnification app to review documents. It doesn’t matter in which direction the material is scanned. Even upside-down documents are saved right-side up. Performance is improved by the “Image Enhancement” feature, which attempts to locate the edges of scanned documents and save them more or less as pages.
The Bottom Line
I never thought I’d see the day when I would move KNFB-Reader off my iPhone’s Home screen. Microsoft’s Seeing AI gave it a good run for its money and until now I kept them both on my Home screen. But I have now moved KNFB-Reader to a back screen and given that honored spot to Voice Dream Scanner.
Most of my phone scanning is done when I sort through the mail. Seeing AI’s “Short Text” feature does a decent job helping me sort out which envelopes to keep and which to toss into my hardware recycle bin. But Scanner is just as accurate as any OCR-engine based app, and so quick, the confirmation announcement of the Play button often voices after the scanned document has begun to read.
This is the initial release. Chen himself says there is still work to be done. “Column recognition is not yet what I hope it will be,” he says. “I’d also like to improve auto-capture and maybe offer users the choice to use the volume buttons to initiate a scan.
Stay tuned.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
Comment on this article.
Related articles:
• Envision AI and Seeing AI: Two Multi-Purpose Recognition Apps by Janet Ingber
• An Evaluation of OrCam MyEye 2.0 by Jamie Pauls
More by this author:
• Letters, We Get Letters: Receiving Digital Scans of Your Mail Envelopes Using Informed Delivery
• A Look at the New Narrator, Microsoft’s Built-In Windows Screen Reader
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Transferring CNIB/CELA library books on your IOS Device into voice dream reader. 

Several people have asked me for this information. 

By Kim Kilpatrick 

Putting a book from CNIB/CELA library into voice dream reader. 

Some people have found that the direct to player app which CNIB created for I Devices, is not working well and consistently. I have had many problems with it myself. 

It often suddenly declares a service error. And sometimes will only read part of a book. 

So, I still use voice dream reader to read CNIB/CELA library books. 

It has more features in my opinion and is much more stable. 

Voicedream reader can also do many other things. 

With it, you can link it directly to your dropbox and bookshare accounts and pocket or instipaper if you use those services. 

Voice dream reader also allows you to have very high quality text to speech voices. 

It is not a free app, usually costing about 10 dollars. 

Here is its link in the app store. 

Voice Dream Reader by Voice Dream LLC

https://appsto.re/ca/kiXKD.i

There is also an app now called voice dream suite which gives you voice dream reader, voice dream writer (a word processing app) and two very high quality voices for 22 dollars. 

Several people have asked me how you get books directly into voice dream reader. 

I have tried several ways but, so far, this is the easiest one I have found. 

In your IOS app store, download the voice dream reader app listed above and also download the google chrome web browser. 

 Chrome – web browser by Google by Google, Inc.

https://appsto.re/ca/NVp8F.i

Open chrome and in the address field put in the cnib or cela library address. 

http://www.cniblibrary.ca 

or 

http://www.celalibrary.ca

Sign in to your library account. 

Search for the book you wish and make sure the format is daisy zip. 

Double tap on the get it link. 

Double tap on the download link. 

You will then see a page telling you the download size. 

Double tap on the download button and your download will start. 

Near the top of your screen just to the right of a button saying menu, it will tell you the percentage of download completed. 

When it is finished, you will find there download complete. 

It may not beep or make a noise so you need to keep checking that field. 

Now, near the bottom of your screen, you will notice install google drive. 

Just to the left of that is something that says open in. 

Double tap that and choose voice dream reader. 

Note: voice dream reader needs to be installed on your device before you try this. 

Now double tap that and it will open voice dream and put your book there. 

If anyone has other ways in which they move daisy books from cnib or cela library to voice dream, I’d love to know them. 

A few more tips about voice dream and daisy books, you can add bookmarks, you can also move around by headings or percentage. 

To turn on the sleep timer double tap and hold the play button and it will open. 

If you would like me to help you with this, call me at 1-877-304-0968 

Or email 

gttprogram@gmail.com 

GTT Toronto notes all about CNIB/Cela library October 15, 2015. 

This is a great set of notes from the GTT Toronto group.Anyone who is using CNIB library/CELA library service can get something out of these. 

 

 

October 15, 2015.

 

Jason Fayre opened the meeting. He introduced the evening’s guest speaker, Lindsay Tylor, Manager of member services for CELA, Centre for Equitable Library Access. She proposed discussing what CELA is, and how it interacts with the CNIB library, then library services in general. She did a check-in with the group: most people use the CNIB library, a handful use things like Bookshare, commercial services and the public library. The Centre for Equitable Library Access is a non-profit created in April 2014 by Canadian public libraries so that they can offer services for people with print disabilities. Its origin is in the idea that it isn’t just for some to require the use of charitable dollars to access library services. The main point is that public libraries are increasingly accessible. This means that all libraries in Ontario should be able to offer an equal level of access to people with print disabilities. This is especially impactful for people in small communities. CELA also means that anyone with a print disability can access the large collection owned by CNIB, not just people with vision loss. The functional difference with CELA for the user is merely that they will be accessing their material through the public library system. Anyone coming to the CNIB as a new client will interact directly with the public library, and existing clients will be enrolled by CNIB staff.

 

The first goal of CELA is to recognize that one size doesn’t fit all users; one format won’t work for everyone, and people have a range of technical skills. The goal is for pleasure reading and life-long learning, not really academic material. In the publishing world at large, very little is available in alternative format, and there’s a recognized goal of not duplicating material that is already accessible. There are three formats, audio, etext and Braille. For each one there are different delivery methods. Audio is by far the most popular. All of the audio through CELA is in daisy format. This means the books highly structured, and can be accessed by page, heading, and other fine organizational ways. It’s used worldwide. There are two ways of downloading daisy books. The first is daisy zip, which is a bunch of mp3 files with some data files that dictate the organization of the audio. These come in a zipped folder that can be downloaded, then transferred to a portable device. The process of unzipping a file is built into windows. Internet access is required. For those who don’t have internet, daisy books are made available on CD. Most users currently use CDs. You can play the files on the computer itself if you prefer. The second method, the newest, and most convenient, is the direct to player method. There are specialized players Victor Reader Stream and Plextalk are the two main portable daisy players. They come internet enabled, and you can configure them to your internet connection. The player will download books directly from the library site to your player without having to use CDs or zip files. It’s easy.

 

When you get a player, you need to sign up through the public library to access the service, or you call the CNIB or CELA help line and they will walk you through configuring your player with your library account. A technician can send you an SD card which will configure the device for you, or they can walk you through it over the phone. A long standing CNIB library user can call 1-800-268-8818. A CELA user can call 1-855-655-2273. Your local library should have this CELA number. The website is http://www.celalibrary.ca. Players sold in the last 2 years will connect to the internet; an older player may not.

 

Since the spring, aps for Apple and Android devices will do the same thing as downloading with a dedicated daisy player. This can be a cheaper option. Lindsay did a demonstration of the Apple ap. You can peruse the website yourself, or instruct the service to choose books from particular genres and download them. The ap is called Direct to Player, and is available in the Apple App store for Apple devices, and in the Google Play Store for Android. It’s easy to delete books if you’re sent books from your chosen genre that you decide you don’t want. There’s a generous lone period, but eventually the books may disappear from your device because of licensing agreements. You can simultaneously choose particular books, and receive books from your chosen genre. Lindsay demonstrated playing a title off of her phone. There are features for bookmarks, sleep timer etc.. The ap features work very much like those on a dedicated player. Lindsay was asked whether there’s a plan to put a search feature directly into the ap. Lindsay replied that this is one of the most common requests, and that she thinks it’s coming. The ap is free. You have the option to stream or download. At this stage the ap is strictly for audio, not Braille for a Braille display. The first time you open the ap you must enter your library number. The ap is used by both the CELA and CNIB systems.

 

Newspapers are one of the most popular services offered. It’s available online, and it’s simple. Sign into CNIB or CELA, go to the link called News Stand, and over 50 national and international newspapers are listed. Enter on the link, and plain text articles are offered. It’s electronic text. Newspaper specific sites can be difficult to navigate, but this service is much easier, and updated daily.

 

Bookshare is an American service, the world’s largest online library of its kind. 260,000 titles. They work closely with publishers, and have titles that aren’t always easy to find. They’re made available at the same time as the print editions. The books are all etext or synthetic speech, or electronic Braille. Not all titles are available to Canadians because of licensing agreements. Joining on your own is $75 the first year and $50 each subsequent year, but CNIB and CELA members have free access. At http://www.bookshare.org, you must go through a membership process. Scanning your CNIB id card and sending it will qualify as proof of disability. If you don’t have a card you need a signature by a professional. They have their own built in web reader, and Apple ap called read to go which you pay for. There’s an Android ap that’s free. The ap has options around font size for low vision readers. Voice Dream Reader was proposed as a better and cheaper ap option. The voices offered through Voice Dream are outstanding. Voice Dream also works with CNIB and CELA titles. Voice Dream is $13.20. Direct to Player and Read to go are similar. All titles appear on your bookshelf. In Read to Go, you can search Bookshare from within the ap. Lindsay demonstrated the Read to Go ap with its own synthetic voices. It allows you to control the speed of the voice or the size of the font.

 

The topic of DVS movies was raised. Some DVDs are produced with DVS, but many aren’t. CELA does buy DVDs they can find that have it. The CELA DVD collection is popular and well used.

 

It was proposed that links to books in the Digital Times e-newsletter should be made into direct download links. Lindsay agreed this would be very useful, but might be technically difficult to arrange.

It was also suggested that Braille downloads should be in zip files, not downloadable one volume at a time. Lindsay said she would bring this suggestion to others in her department.

In answer to a question on the topic, Lindsay explained that the library’s content comes from local production, international agreements with libraries around the world, and a growing relationship with commercial audio book producers, Particularly Recorded Books. She explained that patrons can request a book either through an online form on the CNIB library website, or by contacting the help line. She said that some priority is given to blind authors who’ve written on the topic of vision loss, but that there isn’t currently a focus on producing works by blind authors in other genres.

 

In closing, Ian White encouraged anyone who isn’t already on the mailing list, to email gtt.toronto@gmail.com in order to begin receiving communications from the GTT list. There are movements towards creating a Facebook page, and a voicemail line to disseminate information. He announced that the next meeting will be on November 19th, and that Brian Moore will be presenting on the topic of GPS solutions.