Project announced to develop AI-powered technology for blind and partially sighted people

Ground-breaking artificial intelligence software that keeps up human-like conversation to be considered as a new tool for people with sight loss.

Alana and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has today (2 February) announced a joint project to develop support technology for blind and partially sighted people through artificial intelligence (AI) software. 

It is hoped the project could support more than two million people with sight loss in the UK. 

PIONEERING

The pioneering conversational AI technology developed by Alana, a Heriot-Watt University spin-out, is programmed to know each user, remembering previous conversations and adapting for a truly personal experience.

“Advances in technology and connectivity have transformed the lives of blind and partially sighted people for the better,” explains David Clarke, director of services at RNIB. 

“Using the digital tools we have today, like electronic braille, screen reading software and specialist smartphone apps, it’s never been more possible for people with sight loss to lead full and independent lives. 

“As technology continues to develop, it brings a host of wonderful new opportunities. The advent of AI is particularly exciting with wide-reaching possibilities, and we are looking forward to working with Alana to see how this new technology can benefit our community.”

IN PRACTICE

The project will initially seek to use the technology in new ways that will enhance the existing support offered by RNIB. Through its Sight Loss Advice Service, the charity currently offers support over the phone, in eye clinics and digitally. 

It provides information on eye conditions, legal rights, education, technology and employment alongside emotional well-being services and signposting to services and resources offered by local societies. 

AI has the potential to transform the way blind and partially sighted people access information. For example, Alana is developing a tool which will identify objects and find further information about one’s physical environment, automating the popular BeMyEyes App, which connects those who have sight loss with fully-sighted volunteers.

“Our first encounter with RNIB was a revelation. I don’t think I have ever been moved quite so much in a business presentation before,” says Lance Blackstone, Alana’s non-executive chairman.

“When both sides began to fully appreciate what Alana can do to enhance the lives of blind people, and particularly those who are lonely or isolated, it was a humbling moment.”

The future of technology is continually advancing to provide independence to the disabled community.

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