Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ditch Your Car, Get a Bike...It's Good for your 'Elf!

One of the things visually impaired people miss the most is the independence of being able to get around and do simple things like shop for groceries, meet their friends and go for coffee. Not being able to drive makes  doing every day tasks like these much more difficult and can result in a serious loss in quality of life.

Enter the Elf...The Elf is a vehicle designed by Organic Transport, and it was spotted by our own Tom Perski as a potential tool for people with low vision to use to gain back some independence. The Elf is at heart an electric bike, however around the bike is a chassis making it look like a small car even including wing mirrors, head and tail lights, indicators and a horn! To drive the Elf you use handlebars which control the 2 front wheels, and the rear wheel keeps the whole thing balanced. On the handlebars is a throttle for acceleration, and a shifter to adjust the gears for the pedals. If you want to relax and drive put your feet on the pedals and hit the throttle, if you want to get some exercise use the shifter to adjust the pedals to the correct gear for the speed you are traveling then let back on the throttle and start pedaling!

The Elf is legal to drive in bike lanes and on the sidewalk, and could be a great mode of transportation for those with a visual impairment. Charging the battery is easy and can be done either by plugging it in (around 3 hours to a full charge) or via the solar panel found on the roof of the vehicle (7 hours to a full charge on a sunny day). The top speed is 20 mph and you can travel around 40 miles on a single charge so you can get around at a decent speed and distance and the bike always feels stable and easy to drive (if sometimes a little bumpy). The starting price is a little steep at around $6000 but considering the features the price makes sense, and if it gives some much needed independence back then it's worth every penny. Check out our video below!

It's Time To Make Life EZ

An interesting movement in the AT field over recent years has been the homogenization of different types of technology into one device. This has been seen with CCTV's that contain OCR technology, Read-Aloud devices that combine email capabilities, Smart Phones that can be used for numerous different tasks related to the low vision and blindness etc. This homogenization is a great trend as it means a user can carry less devices and make their lives a little easier.

Following this trend is the Blaze EZ from HIMS, a fully featured DASIY reader featuring WiFi capabilities and OCR. The Blaze EZ is around the size of an iPhone 5 and weighs just 138 grams making it very portable. The front of the device is uncluttered; At the top are two speakers at the left and right with the power button between them. A record button is located under the left speaker. Under that are found 3 buttons in a row for access to music, radio and books. Under these can be found four directional arrows with a button in the center for navigation and selection. Finally, under the arrows are 3 buttons in a row, a cancel button, an explorer button for accessing menus and the OCR button for performing OCR.

The Blaze's main competition is likely to come from Humanware's Victor Reader Stream 2nd Generation, itself a very capable OCR device. The devices have in similar built in WiFi capabilities, allowing you to download DAISY books from Bookshare, BARD, stream online radio and download podcasts. The Victor Reader features a numeric keypad which makes navigation and accessing certain features somewhat easier. The Blaze EZ on the other hand features OCR which the Victor Reader does not. In my tests with the OCR it works very well - it performs the OCR quickly, the accuracy is impressive and the voice is clear. The Blaze does not give any indication as to the paper alignment like the KNFB Reader does, so it can be harder to align. Nonetheless I can see it being a very useful tool. One other nice feature that the Blaze has which the Victor Reader does not is built in storage - 16GB is built in with around 12GB available for use. This of course can be expanded with an SD card (support for up to 64GB SD cards).

Both of these devices are great examples of homogenization in the AT field, offering multiple features to access entertainment on the go. The Blaze is interesting in offering OCR in such a compact package, and it does it surprisingly well. This comes at a cost though, with the MSRP at $695, while the Victor Reader comes in at an MSRP of $369. Whichever way you choose to go you really can't go wrong! To find out more call us at 312-997-3649.