Tech4Good Accessibility Award: Microsoft Seeing AI app reaches the finals of AbilityNet competition

Microsoft’s Seeing AI app, which audibly explains what it sees in front a phone camera, is an amazing tool for blind people and has reached the finals of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Accessibility Award. Now in their eighth year the awards are supported by BT and celebrate some of the amazing people who use tech to help make the world a better place.

Microsoft Seeing AI used for seven million tasks  

Since launching in July 2017, the app has assisted blind and partially-sighted users in completing more than seven million tasks and has been downloaded by 200,000 users.

The app harnesses the power of Artificial Intelligence to open up the visual world and describe nearby scenes, people, food in supermarkets and more, with spoken audio. Its key features include real-time text reading, audio-based barcode locator and product-recogniser, face recognition and emotion/age/gender description, currency recognition, colour-recognition, audible light detector and handwriting reader.

Understand more about the Seeing AI app on the film below. 

The app can also describe inaccessible images in other apps, including Twitter, and WhatsApp. Additionally, Seeing AI allows users to teach the device to recognise instantly when friends and colleagues are visible.

It is still being developed and added to by Microsoft employees after being created at a company hackathon event in 2014 by three members of staff. 

Checking homework and being more productive at work

A spokesperson for Seeing AI said: “Blind students in school can now read inaccessible paper text which is not in braille or does not have a digital equivalent. Similarly, blind parents are reading books, checking the handwritten homework of their kids and notes from teachers. People are also using it to get more productive at their day jobs and be able to achieve much more during office hours.”

The app joins four other finalists in the Accessibility category of the awards, last year won by Bristol Braille Technology. Four out of five of the finalists in this category in 2018 have developed or used technology to help people who are blind or who have sight loss understand more of the world around them. 

Machine learning technology

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet, adds: “I'd like to thank Microsoft for bringing real cutting-edge machine learning to a group of users with such evident needs in this area. While none of the smarts within Seeing AI are solely or even primarily intended for blind users, it takes a company as acutely aware of the importance of accessibility as Microsoft to do such an excellent implementation that brings the best of AI to those who benefit most." Read Robin's full blog on Seeing AI, here