Many smartphone apps are now making use of Artificial Intelligence to help recognise products, people, locate and read text or barcodes and describe photos. The app which has recently grabbed a lot of attention from the blind and partially sighted community is called Seeing AI, produced by Microsoft. This app has a lot of functionality which is available in other apps though often at a cost. Seeing AI is free and it works properly on the iPhone SE or the iPhone 6 and above. Sadly, Seeing AI is not currently available on Android.
Seeing AI has various functions, but in my opinion this app is particularly useful for recognising short pieces of text, scanning bar codes and recognising faces.
When you open the app there is a listing of channels which give access to the different parts of the app. The Short Text channel is the default when you first open the app and it reads text live as the camera sees it. This can be useful for reading labels, but I personally find it particularly useful for reading computer screens when there is no speech e.g. during parts of a windows update process.
The Long Document channel is used when reading a document such as a letter or a book. An internet connection is required for this channel to work. You need to take a picture of a document for this and some guidance is offered to help the user find the correct distance away from the text to get the best results.
The Product channel allows you to recognise bar codes and have them read out to you. This is a great way of identifying products providing they are in the bar codes database. This works well and it is easily the best app I’ve come across for finding and reading bar codes.
The fourth channel is the Person channel which lets you recognise faces. For me this is more fun than anything but it does work quite reliably. You can scan your environment for faces and give faces names so they can be recognised in the future.
There is also an experimental Scenery channel. This does not work well at this stage and there are better apps for this. The Scenery channel is designed to tell you what is around you.
In general then, the Seeing AI app is high quality and free. Other apps such as TapTapSee are good for telling you what is in a room and can be useful for recognising products if the barcode is not in the Seeing AI database. Seeing AI should be absolutely fine for most casual document readers. For those with greater needs such as recognising image files, the KNFB Reader app might be useful. This is available on both iPhone and Android phones and it costs around £79.00.
Written by Graham Page