Talking food scanner to warn blind

A voice-enabled kitchen tool that warns users about potentially hazardous ingredients in food or pharmaceutical products has been developed by a UK-led team of engineers.

Tele-Eye, which is designed for use by blind or visually impaired people, uses electronic speech technology to generate voice alerts from the data contained in barcodes printed on packages.

The handheld scanning device also aims to give those suffering from allergies and other medical conditions vital information about ingredients without needing to read what is written on pack labels.

It will also help blind people find a particular product in a cupboard full of jars and bottles.

The food industry has regularly been attacked over the accessibility of ingredient information to the blind or those with poor eyesight. A report published last year by the Royal National Institute for the Blind claimed 20 per cent of the entire UK population encountered difficulty reading the small print on food and over-the-counter medicine packs.

Tele-Eye – which is able to speak in several languages – can be programmed to read out the entire list of contents ‘parrot-fashion’ or look for particular ingredients pre-determined as harmful.

The device will go on trial in a supermarket in Carnoustie, near Dundee, in the early summer.

Customers will be invited to try it out and give their opinions, the final phase of the development process before its designers seek a deal for full commercial production.

Tele-Eye is the first of a trio of products approaching commercialisation as a result of a Europe-wide project called Package. This was set up in early 2000 to develop novel applied technologies to help disabled people use everyday packaged consumer goods more easily.

The two other innovations to emerge from Package have been provisionally named Magic-Hand and Power-Hand. The former is a microprocessor-controlled device that allows severely disabled or elderly people to open screw-top jars and bottles.Power-Hand is a general-purpose easy opener for supermarket goods designed to retail at around £20.

Dr David Carus of Strathclyde University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering decided to seek backing for the project after struggling with a tightly sealed jar in his kitchen.

‘I wondered how people with disabilities would cope given that I couldn’t open it as a supposedly able-bodied person,’ said Carus.

The Package consortium includes Strathclyde and Staffordshire universities, Stoke-based disability technology specialist Rehab Robotics and partners in Sweden and Germany.