“I wish there were a technology that would help me know every time my wife walks into the room,” says a man. He is one among a crowd of visually-impaired persons in a function by the National Association for the Blind (NAB), India.
Another woman walks to the podium. She is in a yellow saree with beautiful flowers adorning the pallu. When asked if she knows the colour she is wearing, she shakes her head. She is then handed over an android phone. With only a tap on its screen, a software starts giving her an analytical explanation – from the colour of the saree to the fabric it is weaved from.
While it wouldn’t mean much to many of us who take our ability to see the world for granted, for that visually-impaired woman, it was perhaps one of the most emotional moments of her life. To finally know, for the first time in years, what the cloth adorning her frame looked like.
This is the power of the Accenture’s Accessibility solution Drishti, which not only derives its name from the Sanskrit word for ‘vision’ but is an acronym for Disambiguating Real-time Insights for Supporting Humans with Intelligence.
Drishti leverages latest Artificial intelligence technologies, including natural language processing, image recognition, optical recognition and smart glasses to help visually-impaired persons perceive the world around them like never before.
In a mere year, Accenture ran a very successful pilot with the National Association for the Blind (India) – which empowers visually impaired persons with assistive technology and employs them in mainstream industries like banking, telecom, medical transcription.
Let’s take the example of a phone on a table. While an average assistive device might only be able to communicate that there is a phone (or something) on the table in front of them, Drishti will not only tell you the model of the phone, but also use multiple real-time insights and combine them to communicate what else lies on the table apart from the phone.
Therefore this solution uses natural language generation to describe every scene visually. It is also capable of narrating English text from printed books and documents through the use of optical character recognition.
Drishti can also be integrated with smart glasses like Pivothead. These smart glasses have a built-in camera which will then send the information captured (via Bluetooth) to the accessibility solution Drishti. All the user has to do is wear the glass, and tap on their phone to hear more about the world around them.
This could be immensely helpful to visually-impaired persons in real-time situations like crossing the road, embarking on unfamiliar paths and help them avoid getting physically hurt by walking into glass doors or poles.
Accenture Labs’ ground level interaction with visually impaired persons at NAB was an eye opener to several such daily problems visually-impaired persons face.
Speaking to The Better India, Assistant Director of NAB, India, Umesh Deshpande says, “Drishti was launched by Accenture through NAB India. And as a visually-challenged person myself, I think it is one of the best apps available. The app gives me dual support. Not only helping mobility on unfamiliar roads through an accurate description of the scenes, but also the incorporation of Optical Character Recognition. If I need any document to be read out loud, all I have to do a click a picture and Drishti will start reading it out to me.”
He speaks about the benefits of Drishti when compared to existing assistive devices in the market saying, “While there are a few devices that work on similar principles, Drishti stands out due to its user-friendly interface, quality and feasibility. Other devices describe any visual scene as per the limited data fed into it. But since Drishti uses an internet connection, it has an extensive database that uses multiple signals to give you the most accurate information in a mere span of 30 seconds.”
Umesh also expresses how Drishti users hardly pay Rs 20 paise per tap for a photograph as against other hi-tech assistive devices that cost nothing less than Rs 1.5 lakh.
“Over 60% of visually impaired persons earn incomes less than Rs 10,000 per month. So any hi-tech device costing over a lakh becomes a distant dream. Drishti, therefore, comes as a sigh of relief for many visually-impaired persons,” adds Umesh.
Drishti has been launched with 100 beneficiaries at NAB India, who are now giving their feedback and suggestions for further improvement and developments of the app.
In addition to objects and text, Drishti also helps identify the traits of people you are interacting with. Apart from detecting their gender and approximate age, it also analyses the facial expressions of these individuals (whether they are smiling or not).
Another essential feature it incorporates is the responsible use of AI which ensures data privacy by not storing any of the images the software captures internally.
Here is another real-life example. Ever since the Government of India announced the demonetisation of all ₹500 and ₹1000 banknotes in 2016, most visually-impaired persons have been struggling to identify and differentiate one currency note from the other. It is common for many of them to confuse higher denomination notes with lower denominations since the physical size of the currency notes has also changed. Drishti helps them identify the new currency notes, eliminating this confusion.
Apart from reaching out and transforming the lives of over a 100 visually-impaired persons at NAB, Drishti has travelled across the globe. It is being used in the Philippines, North America, South Africa etc. It was a finalist at the Global Mobile (Glomo) Awards and won the Graham Bell award (in Delhi) for using mobile solutions for social good.
Speaking to the Better India, Accenture Labs Managing Director and Tech4Good Program Lead, Sanjay Podder says, “We are delighted to say that Drishti is helping a lot of people to live an empowered life. It is our step towards changing the narrative of doing social good using what we do best – technology. Steve Jobs once said, ‘Gone are the days when you ask a customer, ‘What can we do for you?’ Show them what you can do for them.’ And that is the motto we follow. The users wouldn’t know what they want until we push our boundaries and show them how latest AI technologies can be harnessed to transform lives.” Accenture’s Tech4Good Program aims to bring the power of emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Extended Reality towards building an Inclusive world.
The essence of the marvel that Drishti is can only be summed up in the Sanskrit word it stands for. It is ‘vision’ for the visually-impaired.
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