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Start-ups coming up with new applications for the visually impaired

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 11:14 -- nikita.jain

A host of applications that help the visually impaired navigate the world- both digital and real- is being developed by about half a dozen startups that are also gaining investor attention.

These ventures which are building mobile applications, braille enabled printers and personal devices are enthused by policy support in this year's union budget to increase production of braille textbooks and currency notes with braille markings.

"I think the products (for the visually challenged) will gain larger market acceptance post the budget," said Sumit Dagar, founder of Kriyate Design Solutions, which is launching a gesture and audio-based application for smartphones running on Google's Android. Dubbed, 'Simpleye', the app will be ready for downloads later this month.

Dagar, a graduate from the National Institute of Design, who built a prototype for a braille-enabled smartphone last year, said this latest application will be available for free in India and on a yearly subscription worldwide.

It will offer braille typing, news, time, calendar, messaging and can also be used as a launcher to open other apps. Several entrepreneurs like Dagar, are viewing this market as a growth opportunity as demand rises for value-added products and services for the visually impaired.

A World Health Organisation report estimates there are 285 million visually impaired people worldwide, of which nearly 90% are in developing countries like India. "You need to have the technology, clinical (support) and the
=industry brain to startup," said Anthony Vipin Das, an ophthalmologist at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad who is mentoring a number of startups that are developing such products.

Engineering student Shakthi Priyan is collaborating with the institute and the Media Labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop a low-cost braille printer that could be priced as low as Rs 2,000.

Conventional braille printers typically cost over Rs 1.5 lakh. Dagar, whose company has received seed funding of Rs 48 lakh from UK-based investment firm Echoing Green, expects the braille smartphone that he is developing along with LVPEI will help users send and receive text messages and calls by converting the text to braille.

"This space not only serves a great need but can also generate a large amount of money," said Padmaja Ruparel of Indian Angel Networks that is scouting for investment opportunities in this sector.
Investor attention has also increased since Hyderabad's Ducere Technologies, a startup that has built a custom made shoe that provides directions and tips to its users, raised angel funding of about Rs 12 crore earlier this year.

"Most of the 25,000 orders for the product so far, are from visually impaired customers," said Sonia Benjamin, general manager of communications and business development at Ducere who said the smart shoe will be ready for commercial launch later this year.

Emerging technologies like 3D printing are also being used to build applications with braille capability by entrepreneurs like Tania Jain and Abhinav Verma. A student of the National Institute of Design, Jain worked with the LVPEI last year to develop 3D printed puzzles for visually impaired children.

The puzzle pieces are individual letters of the object name, whose contours will highlight the shape of the object when the pieces are put together.

Available as an open source model online, the puzzle pieces can be printed by anyone who owns a 3D printer. "A little push from investors would do wonders (for the sector)," said Kriyate's Dagar.

SOURCE: Economic Times

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