Similar looking to barcodes used on products at the grocery store, VOICEYE encodes large amounts of data into a small, printed square. Using a free app available on your smartphone, scanned VOICEYE codes can be translated and decoded in a variety of ways: print, voice, braille, or translation.
Recently while visiting Seoul, Korea, ABILITY’s Lia Martirosyan spoke with Michael Park, VOICEYE’s chief executive and president, who explained how the magic happens.
Lia Martirosyan: Can you give me a brief overview of VOICEYE?
Michael Park: In 2006, VOICEYE started out as code printed into the bottom of civil complaint documents that were issued by the government through the Internet. Since these documents had the potential to be forged, VOICEYE stored the origin data and digital signature of the issuing organization in barcode, so that you would know it wasn’t forged.
VOICEYE codes have been printed on various certificates, written judgments, prescriptions and utility bills by entities such as universities, our Ministry of Public Administration and Security, our Supreme Court, and also newspapers, magazines, books and leaflets, which are intended for people with low vision. This gives everyone equal access to the printed material. In the process, VOICEYE developed printed text data that could be stored into a small code and combined with Text to Speech Technology, which can read printed text out loud.
Martirosyan: What’s the difference between VOICEYE code and the Quick Reference (QR) code that Japan’s Denso Wave created?
Park: Many people think VOICEYE and QR are the same, but they’re not. While they’re both twodimensional barcodes, VOICEYE has 10 times the capacity of QR and can contain various types of data. For example, if we generate code with 1,000 bytes of data, QR needs 5 square cm to contain it, while VOICEYE only needs 1.4 square cm due to its high density.
Most QR codes only contain a URL for a web page, but scanned VOICEYE codes show the full data. Also VOICEYE provides various types of data formats, including leaflets, schedulers and business cards, which can be used online or offline.
Martirosyan: I understand, I’m guessing VOICEYE has a patent?
Park: We have a number of them for encoding/decoding twodimensional barcode, as well as outputting code through voice synthesis. Technology patents have not only been taken out in Korea, but also in the US, the European Union and China.
Martirosyan: What feedback are you getting from the Korean market?
Park: The Korean government has adopted VOICEYE code for those who have low vision, so they have the same access as people without disabilities. It’s been stated in our disability discrimination acts, as well as in our disabled person welfare laws, that VOICEYE code should be printed on government documents, certificates and any signs that are distributed to the public. So our code has been widely adopted to enhance accessibility for those who have low vision. Also, many government offices provide a mobile application that can scan VOICEYE code.
Martirosyan: This is great, when did you start marketing your product internationally?
Park: We’ve been targeting overseas markets for a few years now. At the moment, we have distributors in the US, UK, Canada, Japan, France, Thailand, China, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Chile. These countries have been promoting our technology for use in government, schools and business. However, unlike in Korea, other countries have no regulations or laws that urge them to use VOICEYE code for information accessibility. So, results may be slow, but we have many inquiries and many projects in the works.
Martirosyan: We’ve been working closely with Viewplus, your US distributors, to make our printed editorial audible. How do people who are blind know where to find the code on a product?
Park: There’s a standardized location of VOICEYE code at the right top corner of a paper, making it easy for those who have low vision to know where to find it. In Korea, most customers print VOICEYE code into this standardized location; we encourage overseas customers to do that as well, so that there’s a global standard. Moreover, VOICEYE has been providing stands for smartphones in order to scan codes more easily for those who have low vision. Once you place your smartphone on the stand and align it with the right top corner of a printed piece of material that has our code, you can conveniently scan and decode it.
We’re developing a scanning indicator mobile application that helps move to your smartphone’s location. It can detect even a portion of a VOICEYE code, and then reveal the whole code. We’re almost finished with it and will upload it to the Mac App Store and the Google Play in the coming months.
Martirosyan: Good to know! Have you done any focus groups with individuals who are blind?
Park: In Korea, we test all VOICEYE products with the Seoul National School for the Blind and the Hanbit School of the Blind before we release the products on the market. We’ve also gotten feedback and inquiries from people who use VOICEYE decoding devices and smartphone apps through community sites online.
Martirosyan: How do companies embed VOICEYE onto their printed pages?
Park: Generally, VOICEYE provides plugin software for MS Word, Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress, which can edit printed materials to generate VOICEYE codes. Customers purchase a license to use VOICEYE Maker and install it. Then the customer can generate VOICEYE codes containing whole text data that can be embedded on each page; code will be printed at the right top corner, which as I mentioned, is starting to become a global standard.
If customers want to generate codes within their system without plugin software, we provide a type of library to generate and print code automatically. This consists of a library for the server and the client, which can be interlocked with a reporting tool. Generating code can be stored as an image file so customers can add it to existing files.
Martirosyan: Can you embed music into the code?
Park: An MP3 file is so big that it can’t be stored into something the size of VOICEYE code, but we can decode a few parts of an MP3 file in a few seconds. This could be used for a simple greeting or brief voice message.
Martirosyan: Can you have a URL link within the code directing to a full piece of music?
Park: Why not? VOICEYE code can contain a URL link address. Once customers scan the code, a linked web page will open and the music will be played online.
Martirosyan: What future developments should we expect?
Park: Recently, we’ve created many assistive technology products using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). VOICEYE code can compensate when OCR technology is difficult to recognize or might have errors due to a document’s format.
As far as I know, our code is the only technology on the market that can read and deliver this level of correct, printed data to customers with smartphones. We also have a business called Phone Marketing to provide new services with VOICEYE for people without disabilities. We’re making various types of data, including text, business card, leaflet, audible menu, scheduler and sheet music, which will combine codes with Near field communication (NFC) technology to create a new business model. You constantly have to innovate to meet customer’s needs and give them top of the line service.