Novartis unveils a new app to empower people with blindness and/or severe visual impairment

Novartis partners with Microsoft to deliver ViaOpta Hello app, to help those who are blind or severely visually impaired experience the world around them

According to new data published this year in the Lancet Global Health journal, there are around 252.6 million people affected by blindness and moderate-to-severe visual impairment worldwide. *

At Novartis, we are committed to helping people with challenging healthcare issues. As one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, we are harnessing the power of technology to discover and reimagine how it can improve and, in some cases, extend people’s lives.

Today, I am excited to announce that Novartis is making available a new app called ViaOpta Hello powered by Microsoft Cognitive Services and the Windows 10 Universal App Platform. The app – which is the latest installment in the suite of ViaOpta apps – is aimed to empower people who are blind or have a severe visual impairment to experience the world. The Windows 10 PC app is available to download for free today** from the Microsoft Store, and the app is also available on Android and iOS platforms for smartphones.

We developed ViaOpta Hello to empower people with severe vision loss with the opportunity to engage with the world in new ways. Accessible via a Windows 10 PC and Android or iOS mobile device, it can be used to recognize an individual from a list of people who have given permission to be identified by the app, and to identify objects around the user. During the initial start of facial recognition set up, the app will send a request to use your smartphone camera. After set up, you can ask friends, co-workers, and family to upload their pictures, so the app can identify them later. With Microsoft Cognitive Services on the backend and use of a smartphone camera, you can take a photo of an individual or an object, and the phone will identify the person or object. On the desktop application, you can browse the photos from your phone or shared by friends to determine who or what is in the picture.

ViaOpta Hello is an early app, and we’re excited to hear what you think of it. So far, we’ve heard great feedback from our ViaOpta Hello test pilot.

Accessible via a Windows 10 PC and Android or iOS mobile device, ViaOpta Hello can be used to recognize an object, scenery or an individual from a list of people who have given permission to be identified by the app.

The journey of this app began five years ago at our headquarters in Switzerland. To develop solutions patients need, we work with organizations that advocate for patients around the world. ViaOpta Hello was developed in close partnership with advocacy group Retina International. In 2015, Christina Fasser, President of Retina International, expressed the need for more accessible and affordable technology that could help people who are blind or have severe visual impairment navigate everyday situations.

We wanted to help and got to work on our own homegrown mobile app. It was originally developed on a single mobile platform on iOS but the functionality was limited to identifying objects only. We needed an app that was simple, user-friendly and powered by intelligent technology that could identify people and objects with more confidence. At Microsoft Build 2015, Microsoft announced Microsoft Cognitive Services preview, which enables organizations to add intelligence to their applications, so they can see, hear, understand and interpret needs using natural methods of communication.

With more than 600 million active devices running Windows 10 and many built-in accessibility features in Windows 10, Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Cognitive Services, we saw in Microsoft a partner that could not only help reimagine the app but also empower and inform its Windows 10 users too. Our previous version of the app only worked on mobile, but Microsoft and Novartis understood that in order to meet the day-to-day needs of its users, we needed an app that could work across mobile and desktop, no matter where people are or what device they are using.

We are excited to launch the ViaOpta Hello app that will enable greater accessibility, confidence, and independence to people who are blind or have a severe visual impairment. If we can create a connection that empowers more experiences with technology, then we have lived our mission.

For more information and to stay up to speed on accessibility efforts at Microsoft, visit microsoft.com/accessibility.

*Source : Bourne R, et al. Magnitude, temporal trends, and projections of the global prevalence of blindness and distance and near vision impairment: a systematic review and meta-analysis; The Lancet Global Health, August 2017.
**ViaOpta Hello is currently available in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, East Africa and South Africa, Italy, Nordics, Spain, Australia, Turkey, China, and Ireland.

Updated November 30, 2017 10:14 am