8 Sept. 2023  ·  4 min de Lecture

Artificial intelligence for the visually impaired

Artificial intelligence in all its forms has been exploding in recent months, particularly with the emergence of Chat GPT and, more broadly, generative AI. As a result of its rapid expansion, it has come in for a lot of criticism in various fields, for a variety of reasons, including ethical issues, intellectual property, data collection, intrusion, etc.... In some areas, however, artificial intelligence is changing people's lives for the better. Particularly in the field of visual impairment, where artificial intelligence has been making a considerable difference to the daily lives of visually impaired people for several years now. In this article, we take a closer look at the tools that use artificial intelligence to help the visually impaired.

Artificial intelligence

© Zabala Innovation

The first accessibility tools to use AI: text readers

Image of someone using a text reader

If we look at it chronologically, some technologies were already appearing in this field several years ago. Most of these were based on text reading, using AI around the text: this is known as "Optical Character Recognition" (OCR), which is a process that "converts a text image into a machine-readable text format". This was particularly relevant for visually impaired people unable to read Braille, offering them an alternative.

Among these tools, of which there are now many, is Orcam, a paid-for reading aid which, according to its website, "reads all printed or digital texts at the touch of a button". All you have to do is point in the direction of the text for it to be read. In a completely different style, Seeing AI can decipher the text on a photo and transcribe it using artificial intelligence. Finally, there's OOrion, the first tool to offer instant OCR that works completely offline! This is not the flagship feature of this mobile application, but it comes in very handy when you're in situations where there's no network, such as in the countryside or in the underground.

The next step: the development of Computer Vision

More recently, the development of image recognition and computer vision algorithms has made it possible to provide tools for analysing the environment and recognising objects and images. This has represented a revolution in the daily lives of visually impaired people, who have suddenly been able to obtain hundreds of items of information about their environment at their fingertips, thanks to their smartphones.

These include the American application Envision AI (and its connected glasses) and OOrion, the French application that provides a description of the environment at any time and pinpoints the precise location of objects in the environment. These two solutions are among the best performing in terms of reliability, accuracy and speed. In 2023, generative artificial intelligence did not go unnoticed, even in the field of solutions for visually impaired people, with the integration of GPT-4 Vision in BeMyEyes, a Dutch application for connecting visually impaired and sighted people. The resulting BemyAI now provides users with an impressively accurate description of scenes.

Image that shows how computer vision works

The present and future of AI for the visually impaired

Today, artificial intelligence is progressing at breakneck speed, with many companies starting to take an interest. New types of algorithm are being developed on a regular basis, and new artificial intelligence techniques are becoming ever more specific and impressive. The OOrion application is proof of this, as a new feature in the app now allows anyone to add objects to the AI database themselves, and thus feed the algorithms themselves from just a few photos.
It is based on "Few-shot-learning", a machine-learning method in which a model is trained to classify items on the basis of their similarity using very little data.

The OOrion app

The emergence of artificial intelligence has brought a host of solutions that are making a huge difference to the daily lives of visually impaired and blind people, and today its rapid growth means that existing tools can be optimized so that they fit in the palm of a smartphone. This makes all these tools accessible to as many people as possible, and the smartphone has become one of the main everyday tools for visually impaired people. Many of them see the future of their autonomy in these increasingly powerful and ergonomic mobile applications...

To find out more about the main mobile applications available for the visually impaired, click here: