Smartphones are usually equipped with text-to-speech features to cater to people with visual impairment, but Alibaba took it a step further with the Smart Touch. Their $15 Billion R&D Initiative Damo Academy has been researching on how to improve smartphone experience for the blind. The common text-to-speech screen readers in phones have limitations such as when loading websites or apps with busy interfaces, but Alibaba’s inexpensive solution overcomes this hurdle.
Working with China’s Tsinghua University, they have created a cheap silicone sheet that’s placed on top of smartphone screens that are sensory-enabled. This helps blind users trigger commands such as “go back” and “confirm”. Alibaba’s Smart Touch plastic sheet retails for just $1 (Php 53) and opens a whole new realm of possibilities for catering to users with impairments.
The Smart Touch also allows users to listen to text quickly in public without the use of loudspeakers or headphones by simply holding their phones to their ears. Trials of the ear touch feature showed up to 50% reduction in time needed to complete simple tasks as taking calls or even online shopping.
Alibaba is still working on making the Smart Touch widely available by improving compatibility with more apps. The Damo Academy also doesn’t plan on monetizing the project, as they aim to mass produce the sheets and distribute it for free across the estimated 13 million visually impaired people in China.