In our latest technology oldblog, we’re going to look at a new app that has received a fair bit of attention recently.
Have you ever been frustrated because you can’t read the cooking instructions on food? Ever been worried that the milk in the fridge might be off? Well, now there is an app than may be able to help you with these and other situations where sighted assistance would be helpful.
A new app, called Be My Eyes, allows blind people to video call with a sighted volunteer who can help them. Just point your phone or tablet’s camera at whatever you need help with (the label on some food for example) and the sighted helper will talk you through it. I have even heard of a situation where a blind person used the app to help direct them to the information desk at their local train station!
At present, there is only an apple version of Be My Eyes, an android version is in development and you can sign up for an email alert when it becomes available here.
At the time of writing this, there are over 86,000 sighted volunteers signed up, and this number is rising rapidly. When I downloaded the app yesterday, this number stood at about 84,000.
The app is currently free to use. The developer’s website states that they have funding up until September 2015 and are considering ways of funding the app after that.
The app is very easy to use. When you download and open it for the first time, you’ll be prompted to register. You can either register as a blind person who’ll be using the app for assistance, or as a sighted volunteer to provide help. Both registrations are easy to use—a number of people I know have signed up as volunteers.
Once you are registered, you can start using the app. Simply open the app and tap ‘connect to first available helper’ which is towards the top of your screen. It is then a case of waiting to be connected. There is a ringing style tune which lets you know that your call has yet to be answered. Something to note, the app can get very busy— I was on hold for a few minutes before my call was picked up.
I had a packet of M and S microwave vegetables that I wanted to know the cooking time for. Once my call was answered, I explained what I needed and held the packaging up to the camera. The helper was able to tell me the instructions (3 minutes and 30 seconds in the microwave for anyone interested!) and that was that. Another thing to note: the lady I spoke to was in America, and there was quite a long delay on the video call meaning that there were a few occasions when we talked over each other while we got used to the delay. Once the call is finished, the app asks you to rate the help you received.
I think this is a great idea for an app, and, after using it, I’m very impressed. The app is still in its early days, and I think there are a couple of things that could improve it. For example, it’s a shame there isn’t currently an android version, although as I said, this is on the way soon. One other thing which I think will be of particular interest to deafblind people is the fact that the app relies on you being able to hear the person speaking to you. It would perhaps be worth the app developers considering if they could add a text chat service which a deafblind person could access more easily.
These points aside though, I think this is a really positive example of technology being used to benefit people and make a real difference to their lives.