1998 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents 


DEVELOPMENT OF A UNIVERSAL ACCESS COPIER

Kh.Eghtesadi, Ph.D.
Pitney Bowes
35, Waterview DR
Shelton, CT 06484
USA
Michael O'Hare
Pitney Bowes
35, Waterview DR
Shelton, CT 06484
USA
Voice: (203) 924-3292
Fax: (203) 924-3409

ABSTRACT

A Universal Access Copier System (UACS) is being developed to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities. The 23 copy per minute machine incorporates advanced speech recognition technology, an extra large touch screen interface, Braille labeling on the control panel and paper drawers. Using voice activation, operators can adjust settings such as the number of copies, sorting, stapling, reductions or enlargement, and exposure strength. The copier will "talk back" to confirm the settings. The same functions can be made by using a large touch screen monitor which will rest next to the machine. The size and location of the monitor is convenient for wheelchair users, and touch selections can be made with fingers or pointing sticks. To accommodate operators in wheelchairs, the system is lower to the ground than conventional office copiers.

1. Background & Introduction

Pitney Bowes, Inc., a leader in office technology, is currently developing a Universal Access Copier System (UACS). Designed to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities, the 23 copy per minute machine incorporates advanced speech recognition technology, an extra large touch screen interface, Braille labeling and is lower than conventional office copiers. The copier is expected to accommodate users with visual or ambulatory disabilities as well as non-disabled users. The Universal Access Copier represents Pitney Bowes first use of assistive technology in an office product.

Pitney Bowes Office Systems recognized the need for this type of product after introducing a line of copiers that featured LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) touch screen panels. Although the copiers were well received by the market because of the easy to follow interface, blind users who had memorized the locations of the control panel keys on the previous models, were unable to locate these same functions on the flat touch panel. Additionally, the height and angle of the LCD touch screen was inconvenient for operators in wheelchairs. Occasional requests for "ADA compliant" copiers and Braille label kits came from Pitney Bowes' sales representatives and customers. It was this feedback that prompted the development of the UACS.

The project began by evaluating typical office copiers and the usability problems they present to wheelchair users, vision impaired and blind users. This was expanded to include those with impaired motor skills and cognitive impairments.

Assistive technology and rehabilitation organizations were contacted to see if there were established design guidelines to make office copiers "ADA compliant". The responses varied but the common theme was that copier manufacturers often overlooked simple things such as the lack of a small dimple on the "5" button on many numeric keypads (computer keyboards have this but many fax machines and copiers do not). Most cited that an LCD touch control panel was less than optimal for blind users and lifting the document feeder or platen cover on top of a copier presented difficulty for many wheelchair users.

Addressing the needs of as many users as possible was the design approach for the UACS. Selecting the appropriate technology and designing the required modifications to the copier was next. A Pitney Bowes C235 copier was selected as the base machine. Applying speech technology for machine control addressed many of the interface issues. In addition to the voice input and respond function, the copier was designed to be accessed through the regular control panel or the large touch screen monitor next to the copier.

2. Copier Control Techniques

Controlling the copier is accomplished by interfacing to a communication port on the copier that can be used to simulate the pressing of keys on the copier control panel. Once this interface is established, a software program on the connected PC can be used to duplicate the actions of the copier control panel. Adding a voice and touch interface to this program permits several keys to be issued with a single phrase or touch. Adding wireless audio allows hands-free operation of the copier. An audio voice feedback provides confirmation that commands are properly executed.

To achieve the above functionality a combination of hardware and software is required to communicate between a PC and the copier. A Pentium 133 Mhz PC with Window 95 operating system was used. The user interface was developed in a Visual Basic environment and graphically represents controls found on the copier control panel on each screen.

The copier has a port which can transmit and receive serial data using the RS-422 electrical specification. Since the PC uses RS-232 electrical levels, an RS-232 to RS-422 converter was added to the PC, so that any data sent by the PC would be converted to RS-422 levels, and visa versa. The communications software uses many of the built-in serial communications features of the Microsoft Visual Basic.

A speech recognition DSP board was used and installed in the PC to process and recognize the voice input and output. The vocabulary and voice recognition grammar was developed in a voice recognition software package. Another controller board was also utilized and installed in the PC for touch screen interface. A 17" Touch Screen Monitor was used for this application.

3. User Interface Design and Physical Modifications

A graphical user interface displayed on a large touch screen monitor was developed to provide an alternate control panel.

The size and location of the monitor is convenient for wheel chair users, selections can be made by touching the oversized buttons with either a fingertip, mouse or pointing stick. Displaying the controls and vocabulary on the monitor prompts operators using speech input.

A modified cabinet lowers the copier putting the control panel and document feeder closer to desk height. A lever arm can be added to assist with lifting the document feeder. Braille labeling provides paper loading instructions and identifies paper drawers and control panel features.

4. Speech Recognition and Wireless Communication Interface

The evaluation and selection process of the speech recognition system was performed in two Phases. In Phase I, five different speech recognition systems were evaluated to determine which provides the optimum performance in an environment where the background noise could exceed 85 dBA. Based on the above criteria, a speech recognition engine was selected, it provided over 95% accuracy at 85 dBA background noise. In Phase II of the evaluation process the speech recognition engine was tested to determine the recognition accuracy as a function of; the internal sensitivity level, different subjects, vocabulary subset, and vocabulary syllables. The evaluation process was fully automated by utilizing two PCs and custom software. Some of the conclusions are summarized as: Recognition accuracy improved with decreasing the number of words in a vocabulary subset. Female and male subjects did not have any significant impact on the accuracy. The accuracy improved incrementally with increasing the number of syllables in a vocabulary subset. The internal sensitivity level of the speech recognition engine played an important role in both mis-recognition and no-recognition of the system.

Wireless communication provides a unique capability to the UACS where mobility, flexibility and ease of use is critical to the operator. A wireless microphone dedicated to speech recognition applications was incorporated into the system. It connects directly to the speech recognition sub-system with 150 ft range of operation. The wireless system consists of a microphone, microphone transmitter and receiver. The microphone has a hypercarioid pick-up pattern that provides maximum isolation from ambient noise and adjacent sound sources. The receiver is a single channel system in the VHF band between 169 MHz and 216 MHz. The microphone transmitter has an extended dynamic range, a battery test light, noiseless muting, and a rugged case.

5. Field Testing

The Massachusetts Hospital School (MHS) in Canton, MA, began testing the first prototype in mid October. MHS provides physically challenged children and young adults with a supportive and adaptive learning program, that combines the disciplines of medicine, education, recreation, and rehabilitation. Design recommendations made by the students and staff at the school will be passed along to the engineers and designers at Pitney Bowes Technology Center for further development.

6. Applications and Opportunities

Refinement based on field testing results and technical assistance from Pitney Bowes employees with disabilities is underway. The Universal Access Copier System is scheduled to be released in limited production in the second quarter of this year. Pitney Bowes expects the UACS will be especially valuable to schools, libraries, municipal buildings and in the offices of disabled workers.


Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings 


Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.