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Cambridge Evening News, "The Business"  06/04/04

break-step's invention for the blind  
By Jenny Chapman  

He calls it "an advance on the white cane", but the technology Patrick Andrews and his associates have developed could revolutionise everyday life for the blind.

Dr Andrews' company, Break- Step Productions, based at St John's Innovation Centre in Cambridge, is working with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in Peterborough on software that allows a small, hand-held device to be pointed at various objects, recognise them and tell the blind person what they are via an earpiece.

In the home this could involve finding foodstuffs in cupboards, identifying music CDs, even searching for lost items.

break-step, which consists of an elite handful of scientists and experts scattered around the world, has come up with a way of teaching a computer to recognise an object after just one "sighting", or a single click. And this is where the technology scores over anything else currently available throughout the world.

As well as helping blind people, the new software, known as Foveola, is currently being evaluated by some of the world's largest corporations for other possible applications. Break-Step sells an evaluation model via its website for just $750.

Dr Andrews, who used to be a consultant with PA, and Generics Group, started Break-Step a year ago after studying the human brain cells that connect with the eyes.

An engineer by training, he combined the two disciplines to develop Foveola, working in close collaboration with experts around the world, although he says his inspiration came from the late Prof Fergus Campbell at Cambridge University.

Dr Andrews said: "I am particularly interested in vision. It is something we all take for granted. I thought it would be interesting to develop a machine that could look at things in the same way as people do."

Experts who are involved with the Foveola project include Dr Adar Pelah at Cambridge University and Peter Lucas, a Bletchley Park veteran, who is helping to develop the user specification.

break-step is working in what is known as the "assistive technology" market which is potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Other applications include automatic scanning of X-ray machines used at airports and other points of entry, and Dr Andrews' pet project, a robot dog that can help young children to learn shapes, letters and sums.

© 2004 Cambridge Evening News
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