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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 6

Product Evaluation

Raising the Bar: An Overview of the ID Mate

So, you're in a supermarket listening as your friend reads the names of every product from soup to nuts. The monotony goes on and on, making you wonder, Isn't there a better way to go shopping? Then you get home and begin to search for that folder in which you placed the large stack of work that you planned to do this weekend. You think you put a braille label on it, but what if you forgot? Wouldn't it be great to go to the supermarket and identify items with a handheld device? Wouldn't it be great just to record a short description of what's in your folder onto a blank bar code and never need to label it again? In this product evaluation, we examine the ID Mate from Envision America, a talking bar code identifier.

Description and Documentation

The ID Mate consists of a recorder and an omnidirectional scanner that are connected by a cord. The scanner reads a bar code that is up to 9 inches away. It is shaped like a telephone handset, with one end containing a small screen for scanning and the other connected to the ID Mate's base. The base is rectangular and measures 6 by 3.5 by 1.5 inches. The ID Mate weighs 2.2 pounds. The buttons are on the front of the unit and the on/off switch, flash memory card slot, volume control, earphone, and microphone jacks are on top. The rectangular Mode button (the farthest to the left) toggles among the six modes. Approximately 1 inch to the right are the Next and Previous buttons, which move you to the corresponding help settings when in Help mode or to recorded messages when you're in Search or Memo mode.

Farther to the right are the Erase and Record buttons. The Record button is used to record bar code descriptions and memos. The Erase button deletes unneeded descriptions and memos. The ID Mate's carrying case also holds the handheld scanner that is connected to the rectangular recorder. The recorder contains computer hardware, four rechargeable nicad AA batteries, and a slot for flash memory cards. The recorder is slightly larger than a Walkman and has an earphone jack and microphone jack in addition to the aforementioned buttons. The ID Mate comes with one 4-megabyte flash memory card that can store up to 35 minutes of digital recording or 420 5- second bar code messages. You can upgrade the memory with additional cards, each of which can hold up to 32 megabytes.

The ID Mate comes with a large-print version of the users' manual, as well as one on audiocassette. After you purchase it, you can download the manual from the manufacturer's web site with a user name and password. The large-print manual is in a 13-point font and may be difficult for some visually impaired individuals to read. A 16-point font would be an improvement. No braille manual or quick reference guide is included with the ID Mate.

The audiocassette describes the ID Mate and its components. The manual also guides you in performing tasks that will help you become familiar with the unit. In the Help mode, the Next and Previous keys cycle through the nine help sections and provide a concise description of the unit's functions.

Scanning

Bar codes consist of a series of printed horizontal strips of various widths, in which each of the digits zero through nine are represented by a different pattern of bars that can be read by a laser scanner. Retailers use bar codes to record the prices of items. The ID Mate identifies an item with a bar code by scanning it and allowing you to record a description. The ID Mate works on the premise that you will record descriptions for the bar codes. No product database is included. Using these databases would allow you to identify new items the first time, instead of needing assistance from a sighted person. For example, you would move a can of tomato soup in front of the handheld scanner until a beep is heard, indicating that the bar code has been located. In the event that an item does not contain a bar code, Envision America includes several blank bar codes that can be attached to clothes, plastic containers, or manila folders. Additional blanks can be purchased. The ID Mate says "item not found," prompting you to record any description you want. So the next time you scan a can of the same brand of tomato soup, the description will be spoken.

A La Mode

In addition to ID mode—used to scan bar codes—the ID Mate includes Memo, Search, Memory, Date/Time, and Help modes. Memo mode is used to record reminders, such as a phone number or the time of an important meeting. Search mode allows you to locate and review any recording that you have made, including both memos and bar codes. You can listen to messages, delete selected messages, or simply cycle among them in the order in which they were recorded. Memory mode tells you the amount of memory remaining on your flash card. Date/Time mode announces and lets you set the date and time. Help mode is an abbreviated version of the manual; precautionary and service information are also included.

Coding and Recording

We had little difficulty scanning bar codes with the ID Mate. For most items, such as cans, folders, and boxes, the scanner located the bar code within three to five seconds. We were able to use the microphone to record descriptions with relative ease. We did find problems with scanning bar codes on dented areas of cans and boxes. The bent surfaces made it difficult to position the scanner in the appropriate location.

Recording memos was quick and easy. We did find, however, that the microphone recorded extraneous background noise, which could cause problems in a noisy office.

The Bottom Line

The ID Mate performs well as a bar code identifier and memo recorder. It is used by some blind people who manage vending stands. However, the bar code identifier works only with user- recorded descriptions. It does not take advantage of any bar code databases that manufacturers provide. We realize that each major manufacturer of food or other products has its own database of bar codes. However, the ID Mate would be a more attractive product if it included one of these databases and had the ability to identify some products right out of the box. If you do not need a bar code scanner to accomplish the tasks on your job, the decision about whether to purchase the ID Mate comes down to whether you want to spend $1,599 to perform these tasks. You may decide that braille labels are the way to go until the price for a bar code reader is more reasonable.

Product Information

Product: ID Mate.

Manufacturer: Envision America, Inc., 1013 Porter Lane; Normal, IL 61761; phone: 800-890-1180; e-mail: enbvision@envisionamerica.com; web site: www.envisionamerica.com. Price: $1,599.

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