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Spirit of Hong Kong

Why blind smartphone users can count on new app iSEE Mobile to recognise banknotes, text and colours

Computer graduate Michael Fung and two like-minded peers decided in 2016 to set up their own business to develop mobile apps for those with special needs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 10:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 6:01pm

Lo Hoi no longer finds it a hassle to identify paper money, even though he is blind.

With new app iSEE Mobile, which has been developed in Hong Kong for major mobile platforms, the smartphone user is able to more accurately distinguish between, for example, a HK$100 banknote and bills of other denominations in seconds.

All he needs to do is run the app and point the phone camera at the banknote. The iSEE Mobile reader will then instantly tell the user the denomination with an audio output in Cantonese, which is used by most Hongkongers.

Apart from currencies, the app can identify text and colour. In the future, its functions may include distinguishing between common food items.

“This mobile app gives me more opportunities,” Lo said, adding that the tool could improve his capabilities and give him greater mobility.

Lo is one of the many who have benefited from the free mobile app, designed by Michael Fung Kwong-chiu and his team.

Fung is one of the nominees for the South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards this year. His name was put forward by the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind – a cooperation partner – in the Innovating for Good category, which honours people behind breakthrough technologies or innovations for the good of society.

Fung studied computing at the Open University of Hong Kong. The 27-year-old app developer said he had always wanted to help people with disabilities.

“I have an uncle who is visually impaired,” he said. “He has encountered a lot of difficulties in life.”

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Fung talked with two like-minded peers who also had disabled relatives. The young graduates then decided in 2016 to set up their own business to develop mobile apps for those with special needs.

“We thought blind people needed more support for using mobile phones and therefore we focused on this area first,” Fung said.

He said iSEE Mobile could serve more people as the app was available for both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating system, while many existing currency identifier apps only offered English-language iOS versions.

At 70 per cent accuracy, iSEE Mobile app still had room for improvement, Fung said. “We plan to enhance our database.”

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Fung was thankful that the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind had helped them test the app.

His team is developing new apps for the elderly, whose vision and hearing are affected by ageing.

The app development is currently supported by public funding.

Fung also planned to introduce paid versions of iSEE Mobile to the overseas market.