According to The Asahi Shimbun, when Keisuke Shimakage invented an eyewear-shaped support device that reads text aloud for the user, he primarily wanted to help his father. Now the product is generating interest from the medical community and vision disorder societies for its accuracy and usefulness in daily life.
Venture group Oton Glass, based in Tokyo's Minato Ward, has been refining the device of the same name by having people with dyslexia, amblyopia and other difficulties try it and provide feedback, with an eye toward sales next year.
Shimakage, 27, the company president, was still a product design student when he set out to develop the product in 2013, after his father had a brain infarction, making it difficult for him to read.
"I wanted to make something that would provide support to Dad by means of voice," Shimakage said.
The name is derived from "oton," meaning father in a Japanese dialect, and "oto," meaning voice.
The device consists of a digital camera that takes images of letters or text when a button is pressed on the side of the glasses. The data is then processed over the Internet and converted into voice, which can be played through earphones or a speaker.
When Shimakage's father tried the prototype on, the son quoted him as saying, "Life would be easier with something like this."
During the development process, Shimakage got to know people with dyslexia, a condition that makes it difficult to read and write, but which does not affect mental faculties, vision or hearing.
He learned about the difficulties they face in learning and daily life by not being able to read books, manuals, signs and other written material with sufficient speed and accuracy.
Believing he could help such people, Shimakage decided to commercialize his product and set up a business venture. About 10 people, including engineers, joined his company.
The inspired inventor broadened the range of his anticipated clientele to include people with visual field defects and amblyopia. He went on trains and into shops with people that have such deficits in Yokohama and elsewhere to get feedback to refine the product.One individual with acquired blindness who tried the "speaking glasses" was quoted by Shimakage as saying: "The experience was so touching. It felt as though I had recovered my previous sight."
Oton Glass also received input from Tokyo-based Edge (Japan Dyslexia Society) on how the product could be improved. The government-certified nonprofit organization provides support to dyslectics and conducts campaigns to raise awareness.
"The accuracy of the product has been refined so much that now it can even read signs in the distance and handwritten menus at restaurants," said Eiko Todo, 65, the chairwoman of Edge. “There is no discomfort when it is used outdoors. The device can live up to our needs very well."
The Kagawa Prefecture branch of the Japanese Retinitis Pigmentosa Society organized a hands-on demo session for the eyewear in spring in Takamatsu.
“This is quite good,” said a 31-year-old man who tried the device on. “It would be even better if it could tell you what product you are holding while shopping."
Yosuke Yamashita, 42, a society official, also spoke positively about the support device, saying, “The product appears likely to help enhance people's quality of life in the future."
Oton Glass currently features conversion of English and Japanese text into voice, as well as translation of multilingual text into Japanese and English voice, said Yoshihiro Asano, 26, an Oton Glass official in charge of open innovation.He said improvements are ongoing, including a reduction in the device's size.
With an eye toward release for sale to the public, the company is also hoping to have the product certified as a “daily life tool,” which can be covered by local government subsidies when purchased, and thus available at a reasonable price, Asano added.
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