Qualcomm, Project Ray Collaborate on a Mobile Phone for the Blind

Qualcomm and Project Ray have introduced a mobile phone that allows the visually impaired to access audio-book content from a nonprofit library in Israel.

Qualcomm and Project Ray, a company that develops technology for the blind, have introduced the Ray, a mobile touch-screen smartphone that syncs with audio content as part of a trial with Israel's Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped.

The Project Ray device combines smartphone technology along with that of devices such as audio-book readers, raised Braille labels and special barcode scanners. The phone is built from an off-the-shelf Android handset.

The companies announced the mobile phone Oct. 22. Qualcomm will fund the project through its Wireless Reach program, which delivers wireless technology to underserved communities.

Qualcomm is also providing project management assistance. Its Snapdragon processor powers the Ray smartphone.

About 90 percent of visually impaired people reside in developing countries, the World Health Organization reported.

The Central Library for the Blind is a nonprofit organization that provides resources to the blind, visually impaired and reading impaired. Recorded books comprise the library's primary collection.

During a trial, the Central Library for the Blind will provide free mobile devices and, if necessary, broadband service, to 100 visually impaired individuals subscribing to the library's services. Users can download a few months' worth of reading materials, Qualcomm reported.

Of the 285 million people that are visually impaired worldwide, 39 million are blind and 246 million have limited vision, according to the World Health Organization.

The Ray device's interface enables eye-free interaction through built-in vibration and voice prompts, which provide user feedback. Specific tones help guide users around the interface. A built-in motor and mathematical formula enable vibrations to help users identify which screens in the interface they've reached, according to Boaz Zilberman, CEO of Project Ray.

Screens include Menu, List, Action, Lock and Dialer.

"The breakthrough UI defines a new language for human-device interaction that is built ground-up for eye-free operation," Boaz Zilberman, CEO of Project Ray, said in a statement. "The user touches any position on the screen and that position becomes the starting point for selecting an audio book, messaging or other activity."

Users navigate on the phone using simple finger movements in different directions. The UI learns a user's preferences and usage patterns and adapts to the behavior, said Zilberman.

"We believe the Project Ray device will enhance the ability of blind and visually impaired people to access resources and information independently," Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel for Qualcomm, said in a statement.

The Ray phone enables the visually impaired to make calls and send text messages using vocal "read-outs" as well as navigate social network services and entertaining content.

In addition, the Ray's wireless connectivity allows users to bypass the slow method of waiting for rented items in the mail, according to Amos Beer, CEO of the Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped.

"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," Beer said in a statement. "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."

The arrangement with Project Ray will ensure digital rights management for copyrighted material, Beer noted.

Project Ray is looking for the new mobile phone to become the standard mobile device for the visually impaired.

The phone includes features for telephony, messaging, panic services and navigation. Other capabilities built into the Ray device include an accelerometer, camera, compass, light sensors and GPS.