Developed by students, Padam Chopra, Keshav Maheshwari and Aryaman Agrawal, from Amity International, New Delhi, the ‘Practikality’ app aims to empower people with disabilities.
While Braille helps the visually impaired to read and write, sign language aids the deaf in expressing themselves. But, these can sometimes be a form of one-way communication. The machine learning-based Practikality app provides a fully interactive mechanism for deaf and blind people to communicate with ease, and is in its final stages of testing. The app is scheduled to be launched on Android and on the web in March this year.
Padam says that the push to develop an app like this came about when his grandfather lost his ability to speak clearly.
“My grandfather could not even go to the chemist by himself. Since he couldn’t communicate properly, he used to depend on me for everything. He was feeling very helpless, and I wanted to do something about it. That is when I started thinking about the bigger picture, and of those people who do not have the ability to see, hear or speak,” says Padam.
A few months later, Padam visited a blind school, an experience that spurred him to commit himself to making the idea a reality. Both Aaryaman and Padam started on the research and development needed to build the application. After a few months, their classmate Keshav joined them to bring in some business acumen to the team.
“We spent sleepless nights learning to build algorithms and developing machine-learning models. But I am glad our efforts bore some fruit,” Padam recollects.
The Practikality app has three features:
This solution can be used by the mute to convert text into voice. The user has to key in the message that he or she wants to communicate. The app converts the input which can be either words or Morse Code (a character encoding scheme) into audio, thereby facilitating communication between the user and the recipient. The icing on the cake is that VOICE produces the audio by closely matching it to human speech after taking into account five emotions, disgust, hate, anger, sorrow and joy.
EASI, which stands for Electronic Assist for Sign Interpretation, is for people who have a hearing impairment. It helps the user to convert the recipient’s voice into text, which is in turn displayed on the app. To add to that, EASI also has an option to customize the database, which allows the user to add personal signs or gestures so as to reduce the time lag between interpretations.
VISION allows safe navigation for the visually impaired by allowing them to detect objects and people in the surrounding environment. It does this through environmental analysis and facial recognition. This solution also offers educational assistance by allowing the blind to store content within the app and refer to it later.
Padam says the app will be open for free subscription for the first 100,000 users. A minimal fee will be charged later for certain special features.
During the course of testing the app, the founders collaborated with many government schools and colleges, interacting with about 150 deaf, blind, and non verbal students. After collecting data points and feedback from them, the team used machine learning and a self-trained ‘Convolutional Neural Network’ to constantly improvise the app’s features to reach one step closer to their goal.
Last year, the Practikality app was also recognized at the Microsoft Imagine Cup Indian Nationals as the ‘Best Project on Accessibility Track’. The team was also a national finalist at the Intel IRIS National Science Fair in 2017.