Monday, 3 July 2017

2017 Weston Youth Innovation Award Winner

Anmol Tukrel - photo Ontario Science Centre
Blind? There Is An App For That.

by Stephen Weir
written for Huffington Post


On top of my fridge there is a growing pile of spectacles. Reading glasses. Seeing for distance. Prescription sunglasses.  Half glasses. Safety glasses. Sigh. I guess I always knew that loss of vision was all part of the aging process, but it has happened a bit too soon for my liking.  Luckily a remarkable teenager from Markham has come up with an App that will fix all that.
I am still a long way away  --I hope -- from needing to use an App created by 17 year old student Anmol Tukrel.  He has created iDentifi that helps a visually impaired person identify objects by using a smartphone. The app uses the phone’s camera and artificial intelligence to provide audio identification of objects, brands, colour, facial expressions, handwriting and text.
I caught up to him at the Ontario Science Centre earlier this week while he was being presented with the $2,000 2017 Weston Youth Innovation Award.  I was way in over my head when the science crowd started talking about what Turkrel’s iDentifi actually does for the visually impaired.
Seeing my confusion, he broke it down gently for me. I will paraphrase what he said. Think about going to a store and taking a can of pop from the shelf.  You know it feels like a can of soda but, is it a Pepsi or a Coke?  Instead of trying to find a store clerk to tell you what brand it is, just point your smart phone at the can. In a few seconds it will tell you – vocally – what you have in your hand. It would say something like,“this is a can of Pepsi.”


We talked a few days later and Anmol filled me in a bit more.  This free App uses the phone’s camera to take a picture of an object and, by using AI, is able to compare the object with a data base containing millions of photographic images, and subsequently describe out loud in English (or 27 other languages) what exactly you are looking at!
“The App has an extensive database that powers its recognition capabilities, and can recognize virtually any object, brand, colour, facial expression, handwriting and text,” explained Turkell.“In the future I hope to add even more objects and brands to the database.”
“I am going to start at Stanford University this FalI, but until then I will continue to work on the App throughout this summer. In the long-term I hope to add new languages, support object recognition in video mode, and integrate (Apple’s intelligent personal assistant) Siri so that visually impaired individuals do not have to interact with the phone and can simply use voice commands.”
Today iDentifi is being used in 96 countries by a growing list of local, national and international organizations serving the visually impaired. They have shared iDentifi amongst their members through email, social media, meetings, and word of mouth. Anyone can get the App for free through I-Tunes.
Still clear as mud?  As part of winning the Weston Youth Innovation Award for young Canadian innovators there will soon be an animation movie on display at Science Centre to showcase iDentifi.
This App isn’t going to get rid of my growing fridge top collection of eyewear. So don’t be shocked if the next time you hear me in the supermarket asking Siri loudly,“Is it the “Real Thing?”


2017 Weston Youth Innovation Award