Alana and RNIB announce project to develop AI-powered technology for blind and partially sighted people

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  • Ground-breaking AI software that keeps up human-like conversation to be considered as a new tool for people with sight loss 
  • The initial phase of the project will look at ways to enhance existing RNIB support services provided over the telephone and digitally 
  • It is hoped the project could help support more than two million people with sight loss in the UK

[Edinburgh, 2 February 2021] Alana, a Heriot-Watt University spin-out developing ground-breaking artificial intelligence (AI) software that can understand and respond to users in a human-like, conversational way, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the UK charity offering help and advice to more than two million people in the UK with sight loss, today announced a joint-project to develop support technology for blind and partially sighted people.

The pioneering conversational AI technology developed by Alana, a two-time finalist (2017, 2018) at the Amazon Alexa Prize, delivers conversation based on context, device and location. Alana knows each user, remembering previous conversations and adapting for a truly personal experience. 

RNIB comprises the UK’s largest community of blind and partially sighted people, offering practical and emotional support, campaigning for social change, reading services and other specialist products. It acts as a catalyst for change, aiming to inspire, transform personal experiences and, ultimately, society as a whole.

The project will initially seek to use the technology in new ways that will enhance the existing support offered by RNIB. Through its Sight Loss Advice Service, the charity currently offers support over the phone, in eye clinics and digitally. It provides information on eye conditions, legal rights, education, technology and employment alongside emotional well-being services and signposting to services and resources offered by local societies. 

AI has the potential to transform the way blind and partially sighted people access information. For example, Alana is developing a tool which will identify objects and find further information about one’s physical environment, automating the popular BeMyEyes App, which connects those who have sight loss with fully-sighted volunteers.

Lance Blackstone, Alana’s non-executive chairman, said, “Our first encounter with RNIB was a revelation. I don’t think I have ever been moved quite so much in a business presentation before. When both sides began to fully appreciate what Alana can do to enhance the lives of blind people, and particularly those who are lonely or isolated, it was a humbling moment.”

David Clarke, Director of Services at RNIB, said: “Advances in technology and connectivity have transformed the lives of blind and partially sighted people for the better. Using the digital tools we have today, like electronic braille, screen reading software and specialist smartphone apps, it’s never been more possible for people with sight loss to lead full and independent lives. As technology continues to develop, it brings a host of wonderful new opportunities. The advent of AI is particularly exciting with wide-reaching possibilities, and we are looking forward to working with Alana to see how this new technology can benefit our community.” 

For more information about Alana please visit www.alanaai.com. For more information about the Royal National Institute of Blind People, visit rnib.org.uk.

About Alana

Alana is a Heriot-Watt University spin-out developing groundbreaking artificial intelligence (AI) software that can understand and respond to users in a human-like, conversational way. A two-time finalist (2017, 2018) at the Amazon Alexa Prize, Alana delivers conversation based on context, device and location. Alana knows each user, remembering previous conversations and adapting for a truly personal experience. 

Email us at [email protected] or visit https://alanaai.com/

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

RNIB. See differently.

Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk

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