Notes for November 11, 2019: the Canute Braille Reader

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Jason Opened the meeting.

He announced that Christine Malec will no longer be taking notes for meetings after this one. We’d like to find a new note taker, but until that happens, Jason will be posting the recording up on the website. The website is gtt-toronto.ca. We’re broadcasting all the meetings via Zoom.

Our main topic tonight will be the Canute Braille Reader. We will also go around the room for technical questions or interests, and we’ll be hearing from Manning, who presented some time ago here, about a haptic way-finding device.

Jason invited Manning to speak. He came here last December to a GTT meeting, so that he could validate some of the assumptions he was making in his research. From that initial meeting, he’s been working with CNIB and CCB using focus groups and interviews. His research was approved by an institutional review board. This lead to vibration experiments, and research around sensitivity of participants to haptic feedback. He showcased his work in April at the Toronto Science Fair. This project began as a hobby project between grades 9 and 11. He’s now graduated from high school, got a gold meddle, and was invited to participate in the Canada-Wide  Science Fair. He competed with 9 judges, and received a platinum and a gold award. He received an invitation to compete in the European Union contest in Bulgaria. There, he got to meet kids from all around the world. He was able to arrange publication of his work, which he’ll make available to us if anyone wants it. The goal has always been to make the technology available to our community. He’s now working on developing, marketing and promotion, along with a team of people. The device involves wearing an arm sleeve, that offers proximity haptics. It is also hooked into databases to give other information like street crossings and nearby businesses. The name of the start-up is Inconav. The hardware aspect is for proximity detection. Software updates will allow it to interact with other technologies, to make an all-inclusive device. It incorporates multiple sensors pointing in many directions. Our research worked to understand how many sensors are optimal, and optimal placement. We hope for a release in mid-May. He’s very grateful to the community for help with testing and research. The wearable device connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and uses a voice interface. It will hopefully function like a smart speaker. It will also incorporate computer vision for object recognition. It will be iPhone and Android compatible. The group as a whole thanked Manning for his work, and applauded  him for his achievements.

Jason opened the floor for questions or concerns.

A member said that she got the Bows Frames, and loves them. They are glasses with little speakers that sit just over your ears. They sound very good, and don’t cover your ears. They’re meant for using GPS out doors.

Jason added that the new AIRA glasses will be Bows Frames. You have choices about lenses. Amazon sells them as well as Bows. One drawback is that the charging cable is proprietary.

A member said that her iPhone 6 doesn’t say, muted, when she mutes it, and that it doesn’t lock by holding the power button for 5 seconds. She was told that holding the power button is not the way to lock, but rather the way to shut down. Also, the mute switch will only speak the word muted or unmuted if the phone is unlocked.

A member said that she’s having trouble with her iPhone not connecting properly to wi-fi networks. Another member said that, under wi-fi settings, there’s a setting called Notify. If this gets switched on, you have to approve each new connection.

Another member asked about auto-correct. Is there a way to teach the phone new words? No one knew, but Jason said you can turn auto-correct off by settings, general, keyboard, then look for auto-correct.

Jason raised the issue of the new IOS13 slide to type mechanism. Some people like them, some don’t. You can go to settings, general, keyboard, and turn off the, slide-to-type feature. There have been multiple updates to IOS13, and it’s getting pretty good.

Jason began to introduce the Canute. Most people are familiar with a typical braille display. They’re usually one line, anywhere from 14 to 80 cells. They connect to a computer, and are useful for reading. The Canute 360 is produced by Bristal Braille Technologies. It’s a 9-line by 40-cell display. It’s different in many ways. It’s not meant to be connected to a computer. It’s more oriented toward reading books. Because braille books are now printed on demand, this technology is very environmentally friendly.

The unit is about the dimension of a few laptops stacked. It’s got ports for USB and computer connections. The HDMI port isn’t used for anything at the moment, but upgrades in the future may use it. There’s also an SD card slot. On the left side, there are a series of buttons, H for help, then numbered buttons that are used for going to specific pages or selecting things from a menu. On the front, there are 3 buttons, back, forward. On the back is a power button and power cord. At the moment there is no internal battery, but you can buy an external battery. People have requested an internal battery, but this would add a lot of weight. It’s not necessarily a portable device, though of course it’s much more compact than paper braille. It’s also especially useful for anything that’s improved by viewing multiple lines, math, braille music, knitting patterns, computer programming, crosswords etc.

The way it works is different from typical braille displays. Usually they work with 6-8 pins per cell, moved by rods, stimulated by electrical impulses. The Cannute works with spinning wheels, two per cell. Therefore it does have some noise associated with it because of the movement of motors. The motors are the same as those used to move the heads in laptop CD ROM drives.

When you turn it on, it has a warm-up routine. It has no fan, so you could just leave it on. It refreshes one line at a time. It’s AC powered at the moment. The unit hasn’t been released yet, but it should be in January or February of next year. The price will likely be around $3000, which is comparable to single-line displays. Brian, a member from BC with the company Canastech, said they’ll be selling them for $3000. CNIB will be selling them as well.

Jason switched on the unit. Its initializing process sounds a bit like a printer, as the cells appear and disappear. The boot-up process takes about a minute. It runs on Linix. A lot of the software is open-source, and available on GitHub. If you had been reading a book from an SD card, you would be placed where you left off.

Jason pressed the, Menu, button, which brought up several options. Jason chose the, view library, button. This gives a list of all the books on the machine, listed as BRF files. At the moment, it doesn’t support folders, but they’ve received feedback that this would be a good idea. Pressing the, forward, button, goes to the next 9 files. The lines refresh from top to bottom, so you can start reading before the entire display is refreshed. A tester discovered that BookShare BRF books have 14 pages of indexing material, so you can use the, go to page, function, to skip through it quickly. Braille Blaster is free software that will allow you to produce BRF files.

The unit doesn’t come with an SD card or a case. They’re working on a case. The un-raised cells on most braille displays are recessed. On the Canute, they’re not. This makes it more resistant to dust etc. Time will tell about its durability. There is no way to input braille; it has no keyboard. It does have a USB port, so it’s possible that a software upgrade may allow this in the future. Testers have also asked for wi-fi for downloading books directly. It has its own operating system. There’s one SD card slot and two USB ports.

CELA is running a pilot project to see how easily the Canute can replace paper braille. With braille books on print-on-demand, it may turn out to be cheaper, and is definitely quicker and more environmentally friendly. CELA has invited some braille users to try it. Because it refreshes from top down, hopefully the reading experience is smooth and uninterrupted. The pilot has begun with the highest volume braille readers first. The pilot candidates list may be expanded.

A member asked whether there’s a source for product reviews. Jason answered that he didn’t know of one.

A member asked about service and repair. CNIB will be able to do some level of maintenance, but higher-level may have to go back to England.

Many members said that an external battery would be inconvenient.