Published: 23rd June 2021
This start-up's software can read text out loud for the visually-challenged in Indian languages. Check it out
Santhiya Rajan, the Founder of Paraclete Image Labs, has been working on developing Prakash, which is what the reader is called, ever since she was in college. This is how they made it real
Getting an education is very different for the visually impaired. When they are young, they head to blind schools and have access to books written in Braille format. At school, they have others whom they can relate to and learn with. Access to content isn't difficult either. But can the same be said when they go for higher education? A myriad of college reading material is either given out electronically — through PDFs and e-books — or written in the form of journals, papers and textbooks. In such cases, the visually impaired has two options, they can either get the electronically distributed reading material printed in Braille or listen to audiobooks, if they are available.
Now, both of these are quite expensive and this is where Santhiya Rajan and her team, which includes co-founder Suresh Gunasekaran, come in. Santhiya is the founder of Paraclete Image Labs, a start-up that specialises in helping the visually impaired get access to reading material through the help of technology like Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning. They have developed a software called Prakash, which can scan any document and read it aloud for visually impaired students. They can also upload an electronic document in the software and make it read aloud. But what sets it apart? It is developed specifically for regional Indian languages and can understand and read aloud in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Hindi and English. And it does all of it offline!
Santhiya Rajan, Founder
Santhiya, who completed her Master of Engineering in Embedded Systems from Bannari Amman Institute of Technology, Coimbatore, says, "A lot of visually impaired students ask their friends or family to read the text aloud so that they can listen to it. It is such a cumbersome process and we thought we could make it easier for them with the help of our custom-made algorithm that went into developing Prakash." She says that Prakash stands out from its competitors because it is not only offline but users have to purchase it just once, much like Microsoft or Adobe's software suites.
Santhiya started developing the software while in her second year of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Sri Eshwar College of Engineering, Coimbatore, in 2017. "I worked on it over three years and launched it in December 2020. Before the lockdown, we would go to people's houses and install the software on their phones. But due to COVID, we have now begun offering the software online. The user has to pay a one-time fee of Rs 40,000 and download the software," says Santhiya. She and her team have managed to reach around 500 visually impaired individuals so far in and around Erode and Coimbatore, where the start-up is now based. However, once the COVID situation improves, the start-up will move to RT Labs in Bengaluru, where they are incubated. They are also supported by WE Hub, which has helped them get more grants and investments.
Prakash, however, is not just a read-aloud software for the visually impaired. It also includes an in-built exam writer software. "It will help visually impaired individuals revise for an exam as well as replace scribes. The software will read the questions aloud and the visually impaired can answer the questions vocally. The software will create a PDF document in the end and send it across to the concerned examiner for evaluation," explains the 25-year-old. However, she and her team are now planning to build the exam writer separate from Prakash and offer it exclusively.