Congratulations, Jim Fruchterman
On the cover of the November 2001 issue of AccessWorld was a photo of Jim Fruchterman, CEO of the Benetech Initiative, heralding the article "Fruchterman Fantasy Becomes Reality." Known to many in the assistive technology field as early as 1989, when his newly founded company Arkenstone brought the first computer-based scan-and-read system to people who are blind with OpenBook, he had moved on by 2001 and was about to launch yet another Fruchterman brainstorm. Bookshare.org, the web-based system, in which users who are blind or otherwise print disabled share books with all other members, was another Fruchterman idea that has become a familiar name to most blind computer users. We called him a genius then, and the MacArthur Foundation apparently agrees.
As one of 25 winners of the 2006 MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Fruchterman will receive a "no strings attached" $500,000 grant over the next five years. What new projects the electrical engineer and social entrepreneur has in store remain to be seen. One futuristic gadget that was particularly appealing in the 2001 interview in AccessWorld was what we dubbed a People Finder: It was technologically feasible, Fruchterman then said, to develop a gadget that could tell a blind person who else was in a room or at a ball game. By now, his fantasies may be even more surprising. We look forward to seeing what this well-deserved accolade helps Fruchterman bring into being.
In the first two weeks of September, the noisiest buzz in the world of assistive technology was sparked by the news that Jonathan Mosen, the former product manager of HumanWare's BrailleNote, had moved to Freedom Scientific as vice president of blindness hardware products (see "The Mosen Excursion" in this issue). Just as interest in that item was waning, Freedom Scientific circulated another surprising announcement: Owners of any BrailleNote product are invited, for the remainder of 2006, to trade in those units for its leading competitor, the PAC Mate, at a savings of 60 to 70 percent. In what Freedom Scientific is calling its Open Plan, any BrailleNote product in good working order--BrailleNote, VoiceNote, BrailleNote PK, or BrailleNote mPower--is included in the trade-in program. The promotion focuses on the different approaches taken by the two companies: BrailleNote products offer a "closed" architecture, which is designed specifically to enable users who are blind to work in the familiar KeySoft environment, and PAC Mate products offer an "open" platform that runs mainstream applications. Although each model of PAC Mate is discounted, the offer makes no allowance for the different values of BrailleNote products (which range in price from $2,000 to $6,000).
The three options are as follows: Trade in any BrailleNote product for a speech-only PAC Mate BX400 or QX400 for $700, trade in any BrailleNote product for a 20-cell PAC Mate for $1,500, or trade in any BrailleNote product for a 40-cell PAC Mate for $2,250.
For more information on the Open Plan, contact Freedom Scientific: phone: 800-444-4443; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>. For more information on the BrailleNote family of products, contact HumanWare: phone: 800-722-3393; web site: <www.humanware.com>.
New Ownership of Ai Squared
For almost 20 years, Ai Squared has been a well-known company in the assistive technology field, developing products for people with low vision. Its flagship product, ZoomText, is a screen-magnification program with speech options that enables people with low vision to see and hear a computer screen in a wide range of popular applications.
The company was recently purchased for $22 million by Technology Investment Capital Corporation and a private investor. Except for letting us know how much one popular company in the assistive technology field is worth, the transaction appears to have little, if any, impact on Ai Squared's intention to pursue business as usual. For more information on Ai Squared and its products, visit <www.aisquared.com> or phone 800-859-0270. For more information on Technology Investment Capital Corp., visit <www.ticc.com> or phone: 203-661-9572.
DAISY Notes from HumanWare
In two announcements that were issued within a week of one another, HumanWare U.S. and HumanWare Canada released DAISY-related news to the assistive technology marketplace. HumanWare Canada (formerly VisuAide) has long been known for its leading DAISY CD players. Now, the company has replaced its Victor Reader Classic desktop player with the new ClassicX and ClassicX+ models. The improved players boast a better battery performance, higher color contrast of keys, a sleep timer, and more easily distinguishable AC power and headphone jacks. These DAISY players enable the listener to navigate an audio book or magazine in much the same way that a print reader does--jumping easily from page to page or chapter to chapter, setting bookmarks, and easily searching for desired information.
From the U.S. division of HumanWare, best known for its BrailleNote family of products, has come the news of KeySoft 7.2, an upgrade available for all BrailleNote products that, along with enhanced file management and e-mail capabilities, now offers users DAISY players in their BrailleNote or VoiceNote units.
For more information on the Victor Reader ClassicX series, contact HumanWare Canada at <www.HumanWare.ca>, phone 450-463-1717. For more information on KeySoft 7.2 and the new Daisy player, contact HumanWare U.S., web site: <www.humanWare.com>; phone: 800-722-3393.
Talking Books on the Go
A September 19 article from Korea Times reported the availability of a new mobile phone from LG Electronics that was designed specifically to benefit people who are blind or have low vision or dyslexia. The LF1300 allows South Koreans to download Talking Books either to their computers for transferring or directly to the mobile phone itself. Described as a state-of-the-art phone, the LF1300, which comes with a Bluetooth headset for wireless talking and listening, is also an MP3 player for listening to music and can be operated with voice commands. At this point, AccessWorld has been able to obtain no information on its availability in other countries. The LG Electronics web site is <www.lge.com>.
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