Gift of New Abilities

"Gift of New Abilities" taken from Shiva's Doctoral Thesis - "Attention-Feedback and Representations in OCR", June-2019, Dept. of EE, IISc:

The primary motivation for the work done at Medical Intelligence & Language Engineering lab (MILE), IISc, led by my research guide Prof. A. G. Ramakrishnan, is the creation of technologies that reaches people & makes a positive difference in the quality of their lives. It is inside of this context, that we created the project Gift of New Abilities, where we took on the possibility of gifting a new ability for visually challenged persons to access any book/document printed in Indian languages.

Inside of this, so far, we have created optical character recognition (OCR) and text to speech (TTS) systems for two of the south Indian languages - Kannada & Tamil, and our OCR & TTS systems are already being in use by hundreds of visually challenged individuals and numerous institutions in Karnataka & Tamil Nadu.

It is fulfilling to recollect some of those examples:

  • Shreedhar T. S. is a visually challenged youth from Shivamogga, Karnataka. After completing his diploma in Computer Applications for the Visually Impaired with a prodigious 84.5% marks, he was pursuing his final year of Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Karnataka State Open University, Mysore. While he had successfully completed all his core subjects with good marks, he hadn’t written his first and second year Kannada language exams due to the non-availability of the accessible versions of those books. Committed to make his son win, Shreedhar’s father, Mr. Shreenath, who knew basics of computer usage, took up the task of creating text versions of those Kannada books with the help of our Kannada OCR (Lipi Gnani - ಲಿಪಿ ಜ್ಞಾನಿ) along with its intuitive GUI to correct recognition mistakes. As soon as Shreedhar got access to the text version of the books, he leveraged TTS to study them and cleared all his exams. Later, we were very happy to know that he also secured a job in State Bank of India, Bangalore.
  • Siddalingeshwar Ingalagi, is another visually challenged youth from Bailahongala taluk in Belgaum district of Karnataka state. He works for one of the nearby Gram Panchayats. Being in Gram Panchayat service, Siddalingeshwar always wanted to have access to latest news, but his sources were limited to television/radio broadcasts and friends/family members who would occasionally read out from the local newspapers. Once he became aware of our Kannada TTS (Madhura Vaachaka - ಮಧುರ ವಾಚಕ), he immediately took our screen reader integrated TTS and was very happy with its pleasant synthesized Kannada speech. He told us that each morning before starting for his work, he visits Kannada newspaper websites, listens to the synthesized speech of article titles & its first few sentences and, whenever he finds a lengthy article of interest, he downloads the synthesized speech of the entire article to his mobile phone and later plays it back during his commute to his work place! We were also pleasantly surprised to hear from Siddalingeshwar that he himself scans Kannada literary books and uses our Kannada OCR & TTS to convert them to text & audio, and how this has re-kindled his passion for Kannada literature!
  • WORTH Trust is a fully self-sustained rehabilitation organization in Tamil Nadu. They have a new unit, WORTH Digitization in Chennai, where they undertake conversion of printed books into E-Books / Braille embossed books. A visually impaired school/college student can walk in with a printed Tamil book and a day or two later can collect the Braille embossed version of that book for nominal charges. WORTH Digitization uses our Tamil OCR (Mozhi Vallan) for this and they have already embossed over 600 Tamil books benefiting hundreds of visually challenged students.
  • Eager to make all Kannada school & college books accessible, Rakesh Tiwari brought together many Kannada enthusiasts/volunteers from across the globe and started the Kannada Pustaka initiative. Our Kannada TTS is used for creating the audio books, and for books for which editable text is not available, our Kannada OCR is used. Through https://kannadapustaka.org, we have reached the Braille and audio versions of high-school (8th, 9th & 10th standard) and pre-university (1st & 2nd PUC) Kannada books to all the schools meant for blind children, across Karnataka.
  • Some other noteworthy users of our Tamil / Kannada OCR are listed below:
    • Tamil Virtual Academy, Chennai
    • Ramakrishna Math, Chennai
    • Pondicherry University Library
    • Dept. of Kannada and Culture, Government of Karnataka
    • Samskriti Foundation, Mysore
    • Parankushachar Institute of Vedic Studies, Bangalore

Adding to the satisfaction of our work reaching people, in recognition of the difference made, Prof. A. G. Ramakrishnan and I got the following awards at South East Asia & Asia Pacific level:

  • Manthan Award 2014: e-Inclusion & Accessibility for our work on Kannada & Tamil OCR.
  • Manthan Award 2015: e-Education, Learning & Employment for our work on Kannada & Tamil TTS.

In addition, I got the Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (GYTI) award in 2015 during the Festival of Innovations (FOIN) at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.