17 January 2006

The Next Computers

If text-to-speech and voice-to-text and all sorts of other things computers can do for people with disabilities are to really become easy, computers need to become tough, cheap, and light - and probably small. New systems like current Pocket PCs running new Windows Mobile have a lot of potential, but they remain fairly expensive and somewhat limited. (Voice Command has arrived though) But new things are arriving.

Of course there is MIT's $100 laptop project, heading into production later this year. I've tried to contact their development team about accessibility systems on these computers but, they're "MIT" ya' know, and can't be bothered answering emails from other researchers, so I don't even know if they've considered these questions. But for all those stuck thinking LeapPad is important because it's cheap, or still sweating AlphaSmarts, well, this may change everything.

The other solution is just going "very small." Here's a Sony laptop really only sold in Japan. Less than two pounds, smaller than the Lord of the Rings DVD Boxed Set, and a full-featured portable computer that could easily run WYNN and ViaVoice for example. Typical of Sony, this is heavily overpriced, but someone will copy it soon enough.

The idea is to conquer the barriers. I already send plenty of students out with "cheap" laptop computers (rebuilt used ones) linked to Canon's LiDE USB-powered scanners (which I call "backpackable" and require no A/C power) so they can digitize their own text and have WYNN read it to them, but these new systems start to solve many issues for both school and workplaces.

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