Tuesday, June 10, 2008

ViewPlus: Feeling is More Than Seeing


A Remarkle Development: Tactile Reading .



What the ViewPlus technology does is to create image files that can be rendered in tactile form (via a tactile touchpad or printed out with an embossing printer) and also in audio (via text-to-speech technology). At the core of this technology is an image format known as SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). Unlike bitmapped image formats like TIFF and JPEG, SVG is an XML-based format that provides the images as vector graphics (the core of PostScript and PDF) with text and metadata in XML.

The ViewPlus technology does what Dr. Gardner referred to as the "best possible conversion" from any given image format. When the images are already in vector form (for example, as EPS files within a PostScript or PDF file), it converts them to very accessible SVGs. When dealing with the more common TIFF or JPEG files, the software detects and OCRs the text (including labels within the graphics) and does the best it can with the image file. But having done so, it enables the software—or the user—to infer information about that graphic information. In fact, the next version of the ViewPlus software will enable authoring, so that users can add descriptive information to the SVG file.

The benefits to the print-disabled user are obvious. Dr. Gardner demonstrated how a graph that was otherwise inaccessible to a print-disabled user was made meaningful: He could feel the slopes of the various lines on the graph, and as he did so, the software read labels describing the lines, including the values of datapoints, as he touched them.

The most electrifying moment of Gardner's presentation came when he pointed out how excited his sighted physicist colleagues were when they saw this demonstrated with a graphic. What the ViewPlus software had done with that image was nothing less than adding the semantics that takes it from being "dumb" to dynamic data. Imagine a whole collection of such images in which a researcher could use a computer to search for certain patterns, values, and features and do comparisons or calculations on them.

This is Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Semantic Web: information that a computer can understand. Not just store, find, and deliver, but understand.




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