Sunday, July 17, 2016

ABBYY TextGrabber, not I was hoping for

As an old man with severe visual impairment due to RP, I depend on technologies to help me read the printed material.  For example, I use the ZoomText screen reader to read the text on the monitor, I use a desktop CCTV to read printed material,   and I have a portable CCTV when I am away from my desk.  I also use the scanner and a OCR program called ABBYY FineReader to convert  the scanned printed material to text format for my Zoomtext reader to read it to me.

When I saw the ABBYY TextGrabber app in the Google play store selling for only $2.00, I bought a copy.  The FineReader works really well on my PC with the scanned material and I was hoping the TextGrabber would work equally well on a smartphone.  What I was hoping the TextGrabber to do is to let me take a photo of the text on a item and let the OCR generate a text file from the photo, after that I would let Talkback read the text to me.  I was hoping I can use this mobile app in the stores so I can read nutritional fact, cooking direction, and any other info before buying that item.   I knew the TextGrabber was designed to recognize text on flat paper, and I wanted to fine out whether it would recognize text on flat surfaces like text on front and back of various packages.

The TextGrabber was not designed for a blind user in mind.  A person who use this app must have enough vision to position the camera about 12 inches away from the text to take a photo.  The app's main user interface screen only has 2 large icons.The upper icon is a camera and the lower icon is a photo album.  The  operation of this app is very easy.  After you tap the camera icon, you  would position the camera and tap the shutter  button  to take a photo of the text that you want the OCR function to work on.   After the photo was taken, tap the read button, the OCR would convert the image into a text file in few seconds. When the text file appear on the screen, you tap the screen to let Talkback read the text to you.  The photo album has the previous photos you have taken.  The TextGrabber app also have a language translation function which I won't test at this time.

After taking photos of many type of packages, the result was very disappointing.  The TextGrabber's OCR function had problem recognize almost all the text at the front of the package.  The OCR did do a little bit better with text at the side of back of the packages.   I think this is not the fault of TextGrabber because it was not design for this purpose.  Anyway, I can't use this app to ID items or get useful info from packages.  This app is pretty much useless to me as a low vision aid, luckily it only cost me $2.00.

Here are few photos:
Box of tea bags

Box of cereal

Bottle of prune juice

Can of SPAM

The app didn't  do that much better with regular printed material, like junk mail, post card, menu, etc.  If I have to guess, it had at most 50% accuracy.  The best OCR result came from a perfectly flat paper, with high contrast text and good lighting.  The ABBYY FineReader running in my PC had much better OCR result, I estimated at least 90% accuracy.  I am sure the resolution of the camera and the skill of a user also affect the OCR result.  I ran the test on my LG 22C smartphone which has a 5MP camera.

Look like I would need to find something else if I like to ID stuff on my own.  I knew another mobile OCR app called KNFB Reader.  This app was specially designed for blind user.  This app usually cost $100 but often on sale for around $75.  I have no idea whether it would do any better  reading text on packages.  I don't want to spend that kind of money to find out at this time.  If anyone has experience on this app, feel free to comment below.  As far as I can tell, no OCR can read text on a curved surface, that mean I couldn't use it the read the cooking direction on a can of soup.
  KNFB Reader Demo Video

Another app have received a lot of media attention isTapTapSee.  This app let you take a photo of an object, send the photo to the cloud, and tell you what the object in the photo in about 10 seconds.
The last I checked, this service is no longer free.  Right now there are 2 price plan.  One costs $8.00 to ID 100 images with no time limit. The other costs $9.00 per month with unlimited number of image.
TapTapSee Demo Video

If you need live help to ID a item, BeMyEyes is an app let that let a blind user and a sighted volunteer  establish a video link on smartphone  so the volunteer can  tell the user what the camera is pointing at.  This is a free service.
BeMyEyes Demo video

The info at the is what I was hoping in a mobile app.  The website contains product info on thousands of food items, health care items and other misc items.  You can search the info by product name or using an optional barcode  scanner.  Won't it be great if an app can use a smartphone's camera as a scanner and enter the UPC code directly into the database?  Probably someone is working on that reight now, I hope.
Directionsforme website

I really hate blindness,  I have jump through hoops just to get some cooking direction.

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