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Designing the Intel Reader


Selena Chan is a Principal Engineer at Intel. She can be contacted at selena.chan@intel.com. Ben Foss is Product Development Manager for the Intel Reader in Intel's Digital Health Group. His e-mail is ben.foss@intel.com. David Poisner is a Senior Principal Engineer at Intel. His e-mail is david.i.poisner@intel.com. Courtesy Intel Corporation. All rights reserved.


Printed text is a default form of communication in the developed world. Beginning in early elementary school, reading is a central component of education and is the foundation for building independent, analytical skills. As students grow and begin to enter the workforce, the ability to read memos, purchase orders, and industry-related articles is critical to promotions and successful performance reviews. As the working adult matures, the prevalence of vision impairment increases and poses a challenge to those who desire to live an independent lifestyle. And for a large number of people, reading printed text is a barrier. This group of people includes those with specific learning disabilities, those with partial vision loss, and those who are completely blind.

The Intel Reader is a mobile device that takes pictures of text, translates the image into digital text by using optical character recognition (OCR) technology, and reads the text aloud by using text-to-speech (TTS) software. Figure 1 shows a photograph of the Intel Reader, after many rounds of prototype design iterations and user-focused group discussions. It is roughly 6.5x5.5x1.1 inches, about the size of a paperback book. The Intel Reader contains a high-resolution camera, designed to capture crisp images of text. To improve the accuracy of OCR, it is critical that the text images are of high resolution and as sharp as possible. When designing the user interface for the Reader, we took into account the findings from our ethnographic research and we incorporated many human factors into our design to provide print accessibility to the target audience: we included features such as image rotation and automatic correction to increase the accuracy of the conversion. The Intel Reader utilizes the Intel Atom processor and the Moblin operating system, a Linux distribution..

Figure 1: The Intel Reader (Source: Intel Corporation, 2009)

Disabilities, and the Challenges of Reading

Reading can be challenging for a variety of reasons ranging from learning disabilities to partial or complete blindness.

Reading-Based Learning Disability

Reading can be a frustrating experience for people who have specific learning disabilities. For example, dyslexia is a neurological disability, often characterized by difficulties with word recognition, word spelling, and word decoding. One participant in our research described reading as "having a bad cell phone connection with the paper -- words drop out or come through garbled even though I can see just fine." Dyslexia, like most learning disabilities, is an inherited condition, and not the result of lack of effort, sensory impairment, or of inadequate education. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of any given population has specific learning disabilities, with 80 percent exhibiting reading-based learning disabilities consistent with dyslexia. In the United States, there are 55 million people with specific learning disabilities in the public schools, 8 million of whom are students under the age of 18 who have dyslexia. Although studies may vary, it is estimated that 30-45 million people are in this target population overall in the United States alone.

The majority of students first learn to read by phonemic awareness (how speech sounds make up words) and by connecting those sounds to letters of the alphabet (phonics). Next, they learn to blend the sounds into words, recognize words, and comprehend what they read. People with specific learning disabilities, however, have difficulty with phonemic awareness and phonics. Research has shown that dyslexia occurs because information is processed differently in the brain, and for this reason, reading becomes an uphill battle and remains slow and laborious. When students struggle with these early stages of reading, they are often made to feel inferior. Frustration and isolation resulting from this lack of independence can be intense, leading to high drop-out rates and associated social problems.

With intensive and early help, students with dyslexia are often able to learn the basic skills of reading and develop strategies that allow them to stay in the conventional classroom. Generally, however, they are not able to achieve a level of reading fluency commensurate with their level of intelligence and aptitude. While they may be able to get words off a page with great effort, they are generally at a great disadvantage, relative to the majority of their peers, especially when it comes to comprehension. However, the comprehension of spoken words is not affected by dyslexia, and as a result, audio processing of information is highly desirable for individuals with dyslexia.

Blindness and Visual Impairments

For people with vision-loss, reading poses a real challenge. Anyone with non-correctable reduced vision is considered to be visually impaired. Cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, corneal opacity, diabetic retinopathy, and trachoma are examples of pathologies that can cause vision acuity loss. Vision impairment can range from severe low vision (uncorrectable beyond 20/200 to 20/400) to near total blindness (less than 20/1000). At the extreme end, individuals who completely lack light perception are considered totally blind.

Visual impairment is unequally distributed across age groups. More than 82 percent of all people who are blind are over 50 years of age, although they represent only 19 percent of the world's population. There are an estimated 1.4 million blind children below age 15 in the world. In the next 30 years, an ever-increasing number of people will develop some form of visual impairment due to the aging of our population. Potentially blinding eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma are increasing as the world's population ages.

people with disabilities. There are text readers that help students build reading comprehension skills, a number of computer programs are available to help students with literacy, and audio books have emerged as an alternative format to help students read by listening. Audio books are typically available for common textbooks, selected novels, and popular magazines and newspapers. Additionally, for content that is in electronic format, such as websites and emails, text-to-speech software can be used to convert it to audio. However, there are documents that exist primarily in printed format, such as store receipts, coupons, business memos, personal mail, and specialty publications, all of which require an alternative means of access. Alternative access means reliance on a third party, be it a scanning service to get access to text, or a special educator to provide on-going support. The Intel Reader was developed to address these needs, offering an evolution of the existing assistive technologies to a more portable and intuitive usage model, as well as access to text at a time and place of the user's choosing.


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