#TechThursdays – Kibo XS, world’s 1st intelligent personalised scanning & reading companion
Fifty-seven million visually impaired people in India lack real-time access to content as less than 1% of content is available in Braille. Trestle Labs, an assistive technology company, is changing that for people with print and learning disabilities. On #TechThursdays we profile their leading innovation, Kibo XS.
For blind and low vision Indians, accessing content real-time is a major challenge. Consider this. Less than 1% of reading material available in Braille content, leaving them dependent on audio recordings. A 300-page book takes nearly six weeks to be audio recorded and delivered.
When it comes to e-books in regional languages, the situation is worse as the non-Unicode fonts make them inaccessible by screen readers.
Their struggles were brought home to Akshita Sachdeva when she was studying engineering.
"During my Bachelors from Manav Rachna College of Engineering, Faridabad, I worked on a project that could help blind and visually-impaired people navigate unknown environments and read printed text. When my team went to the National Association for the Blind, Delhi, to test our device, a little kid after using it, called his dad in Punjab, saying, he could now travel and read on his own".
The child then turned to Akshita and asked when he could get it. "That was when I realized the power of my technical skills to create a positive difference in his life and the lives of all the visually-impaired people", says Akshita.
That experience led to the creation of Trestle Labs, an assistive technology company that is changing the way people with print and learning disabilities read. The aim, say founders Abhishek Baghel, Bonny Dave and Akshita is to empower them towards education, employment, and eventually independence.
Like Akshita, the others were motivated by personal experiences to start looking at technology as an enabler. In Bonny's case, it was the time spent volunteering at the Blind People's Association (BPA), Ahmedabad, while studying engineering, while for Abhishek close interactions with blind students underlined their struggles to access printed competitive-exam books.
All three together came together in 2017 at the Digital Impact Square (DISQ) in 2017. This is a Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Foundation initiative, an open social innovation centre in Nashik, Maharashtra which promotes innovation using digital technologies to address social challenges.
We interacted with 100+ visually impaired people across five cities to understand the problem areas. We asked questions like "Do you need help crossing roads?", "Do you find it hard navigating indoors?", etc. To our surprise the answer was 'NO'. Instead the voices that we heard were - "I started losing sight in class 10, I can't go back and learn Braille", or "I have a hard time getting printed books audio recorded", "I ask colleagues to read official documents out to me", "I want to become a taxpayer!" - Abhishek Baghel, Founder, Trestle Labs
That inspired the team to start looking at ways to offer an immersive learning experience, thereby making learning at par with others
Kibo XS, the world's first intelligent personalised scanning and reading companion for people who are blind and print-disabled, does that by reading printed and handwritten content across 12 languages, Indian and foreign, in real-time. Users can follow the text and take audio notes as it gets read out.
Kibo XS can translate text across over 100 languages and the saved documents can be accessed anytime, anywhere through Kibo Cloud. It is compatible with mobile and the Web, making it suitable for individuals and companies.
Wide user base
Apart from blind and low vision people, Kibo XS is being used by students with dyslexia and autism, elderly people who need reading help, those learning a new language and in adult education programmes. The users are spread across multiple states and include universities like Indian Institute of Ahmedabad (IIM-A), NGOs like the National Association for the Blind (NAB) and blind schools.
"Kibo has been a blessing for me", says Meghna, a third year student of Marathi. "I do not need to run around asking people to record books now".
"Kibo XS fills a critical gap in providing relevant library services to the visually challenges students and staff", says a testimonial from the IIM-A. Calling the device "user friendly and convenient to use", the letter says Kibo XS has received a positive feedback. "Our experience has been excellent and have no hesitation in recommending it to other institutions".
Making reading and learning inclusive is just the first step towards Trestle Labs' larger goal of helping to build a world where resources are inclusive. "Our team is working closely with various institutions and organisations working for the blind and visually impaired to build enhanced learning tools to make learning inclusive for everyone", says Akshita.