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Invention and inclusion: a two-way approach

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Author: Fang (Florence) Lu – Master Inventor & Senior Solution Architect at IBM Research

Fang (Florence) Lu - Senior Solution Architect at IBM Patenting is my passion and inclusion is my responsibility as an inventor. We should always think about how we can include all of the population in the technology we create. Invention and inclusion work very well together, as they can work in both directions. Together, we can invent to improve lives and make this world a better place.

Map display for the visually impaired

Braille Map scaled downIt was a beautiful spring day when I found myself standing near a newly developed financial district in Beijing. I needed to find a bank and was pleasantly surprised that there was a large street map embedded with braille. I carefully looked at street names and building names on the map and noticed that I needed to cross a few blocks and make some turns to get there. I took a picture of the map and then marched on. By the time I finally reached my destination, I realised how challenging it would have been for a vision-impaired user to do the same thing. It was almost impossible to remember all of the details to go from point A to point B independently in a busy district, even though the map had braille on it.

I created a Map Display with Directions Generating and Download Facility patent to solve this challenge. This system is for providing directions to a user. The system can assist a user in reaching a destination by converting the directions information into mobile device-based downloadable media. The approach includes collecting input data at a map display and generating directions for a person to use in navigating from the current location to the destination. The system can download the directions to a mobile device in text data format or voice data format. This way, the users can just carry the information with them on the mobile device and navigate to their destinations easily.

Once I started looking at the world through this lens, I had some breakthrough ideas in the name of inclusion. Here is a couple I’ve also patented.

Reading device usability enhancement system in the distractive environment

Remember the last time you were in the middle of listening to a vital meeting recording but got interrupted? We often get distracted by things around us, such as picking up the phone or turning around to talk to somebody. We’re then tasked with the burden of reorienting ourselves and picking up where we left off in our work. This kind of distraction can be even more troublesome for people who use screen reader software to read the information for them. If distracted, the vision-impaired users have to start from the top of the page to have the information read to them all over again.

My patent Reading Device Usability can solve this kind of challenge, as the system can automatically pause the screen reader when it detects the user’s distraction level exceeds the normal threshold. The same invention system can be applied to any other reading device, which could benefit the general population. Instead of getting frustrated in a distractive environment, this invention can come in handy by automatically pausing the audio clip for you and resuming the play once you can start focusing on the task again.

Grasping sentiment on social media with assistive technology

Social networking sites have become deeply integrated parts of our lives. We use these tools to keep in touch with our friends and families and use the media to show the world what we are doing and what we are thinking.

However, it has been challenging for screen reader software to express the same sentiment when it reads the text. I told myself that I really should come up with an invention to help everybody get the same sentiment information when navigating social networking websites. My patent Social Networking with Assistive Technology Device can be handy for this.

This invention can analyse the content posted on a social networking website, and then uses sentiment analysis techniques to determine sentiments. The system retrieves a vocal characteristic corresponding to the derived sentiment. Text from the document is audibly read to the visually impaired user with a text to speech process that utilises the retrieved vocal characteristic. The retrieved vocal characteristic then conveys the derived sentiment of the document to the visually impaired users.

I want to reflect on how much we should appreciate the fast growth of technology enabling us to communicate globally and work more efficiently. We should always think of inclusion when we create new technology.  These were just a few patent examples where we achieve better results when taking inclusion into consideration.

 

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