Welcome!

Linux Authors: Tim Hinds, Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White, Sematext Blog, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: Java, SOA & WOA, Linux

Java: Article

Java Breakthrough: Code That Helps Blind People To Read Maps

Cornell Student Ankur Moitra Uses Java to Write Pioneering Image-to-Sound Software

Take Java computer code that can translate images into sound, via a rudimentary software program capable of converting pixels of various colors into piano notes of various tones, and what you have is a technology that enables blind people to read maps.

Victor K. Wong, a Cornell University graduate student from Hong Kong who lost his sight in a road accident at age seven, is helping to develop innovative software that translates color into sound. "Color is something that does not exist in the world of a blind person," explains Wong. "I could see before, so I know what it is. But there is no way that I can think of to give an exact idea of color to someone who has never seen before."

He helped develop the software in Cornell's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) with undergraduate engineering student Ankur Moitra and research associate James Ferwerda from the Program of Computer Graphics.

The inspiration for using image-to-sound software came in early 2004 when Wong realized his problems in reading color-scaled weather maps of the Earth's upper atmosphere - a task that is a necessary part of his doctoral work in Professor Mike Kelley's ECE research group.

It is a field dubbed "space weather," which attempts to predict weather patterns high over the equator for use by Global Positioning System and other satellite communications. A space weather map might show altitude in the vertical direction (along the "y" axis), time in the horizontal direction (along the "x" axis), and represent density with different colors.

As a scientist, Wong needs to know more than just the general shape of an image. He needs to explore minute fluctuations and discern the numerical values of the pixels so that he can create mathematical models that match the image. "Color is an extra dimension," explains Wong.

At first, the team tried everything from having Kelley verbally describe the maps to Wong to attempting to print the maps in Braille. When none of those methods provided the detail and resolution Wong needed, he and Ferwerda began investigating software. Moitra later became their project programmer."We started with the basic research question of how to represent a detailed color-scaled image to someone who is blind," recalls Ferwerda. "The most natural approach was to try sound, since color and pitch can be directly related and sensitivity to changes in pitch is quite good."

Over the summer of 2004, Moitra wrote a Java routine that could translate images into sound, and in August he unveiled a rudimentary software program capable of converting pixels of various colors into piano notes of various tones.

Wong test-drove the software by exploring a color photograph of a parrot. He used a rectangular Wacom tablet and stylus - a computer input device used as an alternative to the mouse - which gives an absolute reference to the computer screen, with the bottom left-hand corner of the tablet always corresponding to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

As Wong guided the stylus about the tablet, piano notes began to sing out. The full range of keys on a piano was employed, allowing color resolution in 88 gradations, ranging from blue for the lowest notes to red for the highest.

The software also has an image-to-speech feature that reads aloud the numerical values of the x and y coordinates as well as the value associated with a color at any given point on the image. "In principle I could turn off the music and just have the software read out the value of each point. I would know what the gradient is in a more absolute sense, but it would get annoying after some time. It keeps reading out 200.1, 200.8, 200.5, and so on," says Wong.

One of the biggest challenges of the project is the so-called "land-and-sea" problem. "Sometimes I just want to know where is the land and where is the sea," says Wong - meaning that he would like to have an idea where the major boundaries in an image lie, such as the boundary between the parrot and the background. The problem hinges on shape recognition, which for Wong can be difficult.

In the simplest situation, the right half of an image would be completely blue and the left half completely red. To find the boundary Wong has to move the stylus continuously back and forth from one color to the next along the length of the tablet, which is both time-consuming and error prone.

To solve the land-and-sea problem, Wong, Moitra and Ferwerda tried printing the major boundary lines of an image in Braille and then laying the printed sheet over the Wacom tablet, combining both audio and tactile detection. However, they are still working to develop software that can effectively pick out the important boundaries in an image so that it can be printed.

"It is also important that there is no time delay between notes," says Moitra. "That is something we need to improve. Otherwise the image will become shifted and distorted in Victor's mind."

One of the major issues facing the project is funding. "The initial work was done on a shoestring as a side project to grants Kelley and I have received," says Ferwerda, who is preparing a proposal to the National Science Foundation to extend this work and explore other ideas for making images and other technical content accessible to blind scientists and engineers.

Says Wong: "Tackling complex color images is only one problem out of many that blind scientists are facing. But I think this is a pretty important idea."

More Stories By Java News Desk

JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

Comments (11) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Agreed 03/17/05 02:21:48 AM EST

}}} My assumption is that the blind would have increased sensitivity and perception of sound, so it may not be so difficult as I imagine. {{{

That's the key to it I think.

digitalchinky 03/16/05 08:25:11 PM EST

Not that I mind, but my slashdot comment was posted here? - it is unedited and in full, so no issue. The content is factual, if only a little vague. I was making reference to the black-knight dictionary scanners - or rather a sister system that does image recognition. The code base is similar to that of fingerprint recognition software - the downside is (still) that the machine needs to have a database of known entries to work with.

I think it'd be fairly easy to raster an image with sound, though resolution would be dependant on the short term memory of the user. Learning such a system would take quite some effort - morse code at 25wpm took 44 weeks at 8 hours per day (military) Even then it took another two years for it to become automatic (like driving a car)

My assumption is that the blind would have increased sensitivity and perception of sound, so it may not be so difficult as I imagine.

Mike L 02/14/05 02:53:03 PM EST

I was thinking that maybe higher notes be associated with blue instead of red. I think this would make more intuitive sense since red EM wavelengths are very long, while blue/UV are very short. I've also heard of people (not necessaririly blind) that can 'hear' colour, and associate low sounds with red and high with blue.

Maybe it should be optional, if not default, to change the direction that sound is associated with colour. It might even help for this sort of thing to catch on if there was a standardized sound/colour scheme that corresponded to the actual EM wavelenghts of visible light...

Lincoln 01/31/05 12:36:21 PM EST

Is there a demo online? I'd like to see it in action.

Jerry Davison 01/31/05 10:09:25 AM EST

This technology could be reversed and used to translate music into pictures for the deaf.

Paul Gbiby 01/28/05 03:28:53 PM EST

Fascinating!
What's really interesting, though, is what is going on in Victor's mind as he processes his exploration of the pictures -- how he makes sense of the piano notes.

Glock27 01/27/05 07:29:10 AM EST

Java is being used for lots of interesting, cutting edge software projects. Freenet, speech recognition, game development, many Apache projects, Azureus...there are plenty of cool Java packages out there.

The fact is that the industry was badly in need of a sane replacement for C++. Java hit that niche quite nicely, and that accounts for its popularity.

error629 01/27/05 07:18:40 AM EST

Can't be any worse than http://video.google.com , which reads hastily typed subtitles. It can be amusing. :)

art6217 01/27/05 07:10:45 AM EST

Sound might be a very important way to convey images, either an additional one to textures, or replacing the textures completely. It may instantly inform about the kind of a surface. Sound might also convey edges, but then there is a problem of detecting edges: it is usually easy if the map is in a vector form, but in the case of general raster images a good edge detector or even a human that would mark the edges might be needed.

Lars Westergren 01/27/05 07:06:57 AM EST

My previous job was at the Swedish national library for the blind/visually disabled. Their lives have gotten a LOT easier with technology, and especially the net, but there are still lots of problems.

The greatest service you can do to them is make sure all web pages you make are HTML 4.01 compliant though. Alt tags for pictures are of course important (even if it just saying "logo"), and screen reader programs are not as forgiving as IE/Mozilla/Firefox et al when it comes to confusing tags.

digitalchinky 01/27/05 07:05:38 AM EST

I remember seeing a few 'black boxes' (Sparc 20's to be vaguely specific) that were running some fairly interesting algorithms (around the 1997/98 ish era) that would identify logo's from various transmissions, mostly faxes, thus identifying the sending entity.

It was more miss than hit, though I'm sure the recognition software has improved since then, it still relied upon a mathmatic description of the original image, much the same as a voice print.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by mining large volumes of unstructured data, and how data tracking delivers uptime when it matters most.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
“With easy-to-use SDKs for Atmel’s platforms, IoT developers can now reap the benefits of realtime communication, and bypass the security pitfalls and configuration complexities that put IoT deployments at risk,” said Todd Greene, founder & CEO of PubNub. PubNub will team with Atmel at CES 2015 to launch full SDK support for Atmel’s MCU, MPU, and Wireless SoC platforms. Atmel developers now have access to PubNub’s secure Publish/Subscribe messaging with guaranteed ¼ second latencies across PubNub’s 14 global points-of-presence. PubNub delivers secure communication through firewalls, proxy ser...
We’re no longer looking to the future for the IoT wave. It’s no longer a distant dream but a reality that has arrived. It’s now time to make sure the industry is in alignment to meet the IoT growing pains – cooperate and collaborate as well as innovate. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine the key ingredients to IoT success and identify solutions to challenges the industry is facing. The deep industry expertise behind this presentation will provide attendees with a leading edge view of rapidly emerging IoT oppor...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...