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Intel Unveils Reader for the Visually Impaired

Intel is a company best known for its parts, not end-user products, which is one of the many elements that make the new Intel Reader so unusual.

The new device is not unlike Amazon's Kindle or many other e-readers. But at $1,499 it won't be competing with consumer devices on price. Instead, the Intel Reader has a high resolution camera that reads text and then recites it through a computerized voice for the user.

It's the brain child of Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC) Digital Health Group, a unit dedicated to creating new technologies (with Intel parts, of course) to improve quality of life. Already it has remote monitoring equipment, so a patient does not have to be in a hospital or doctor's office.

The Intel Reader can read digital files of books aloud, it can capture images from any printed material and use its text-to-speech technology to read aloud the publication as well as display images. It can read the books that have been formatted online for visually-impaired readers, or save the text as a sound file so you can listen to it on your iPod.

The device has an Intel Atom processor and 2GB of flash memory storage, which can hold around 500,000 pages of text or 600 scanned pages. It runs a combination of Intel's Moblin Linux software plus some third-party software for scanning and reading the text. Its battery supports four hours of reading time or several days on standby power.

Ben Foss isn't just director of access technology at Intel, he's also battled dyslexia his entire life. So he's well-suited to lead a product like this because, as a certain hair club president once said, he's also a client. He offers a video demonstration of the Intel Reader on YouTube.

Capturing one of the last frontiers of content delivery

"This is built on the concept that a lot of the material you need in digital format is not available," he told InternetNews.com. "A digital version of 'The da Vinci Code' is one thing but a bill or menu at a restaurant are not easy to get. That ability to capture and digitize and share information, I think, is one of the last frontiers for information and there are lots of ways it can be applied."

Foss said Intel is making a finished product instead of supplying parts for two reasons: "In this market, we don't have customers we'd be competing with. We won't be bumping up against someone where we'd have a channel conflict. That's probably good since there's a lot of work requiring an integrated team to put it all together," he said.

The device is the size of a paperback book and can read two pages at a time. Depending on distance, it can read fonts as small as the numbers on a receipt. It comes with a 5-megapixel digital camera that can read a page in about 30 seconds, depending on how dense it is.

Intel certainly has its supporters. The Reader is backed and endorsed by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the International Dyslexia Association, the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, the Council for Exceptional Children, and the National Federation of the Blind.

Intel said statistic show there are about 10 to 15 million blind and visually impaired people in the U.S., and about 10 to 15 percent of students are dyslexic. Beyond the visually impaired, Foss figured it would be useful for many more people with handicaps to have information read to them or possibly be used to help the blind use things like a computer.

The Intel Reader is available now, through medical device resellers such as CTL, Don Johnston, GTSI, Howard Technology Solutions and HumanWare.