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Dancing Around the World of Barcodes with Digit-Eyes

October 16, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Kevin Chao demonstrates Digit-Eyes, an iPhone app that scans the barcodes found on commercial products and enables the creation and use of audio or text labels that can be easily attached to items found in the home, on the job or at school.

Digit-Eyes relies on the iPhone’s camera to scan barcodes. Correct positioning of the iPhone is critical for the successful use of Digit-Eyes, Noogle Noggles, oMoby or any other app that uses the camera. There is a learning curve for most blind people who wish to use these apps, but employing a systematic approach and staying patient can really pay off in the long run.

Follow these steps to start scanning with Digit-Eyes:

  1. Find and double tap the Digit-Eyes icon on the Home screen.
  2. Flick to the right to locate the Scan button and double tap it to get the party started.
  3. Digit-Eyes immediately begins scanning and a ticking sound is heard to let you know it is working.
  4. While Digit-Eyes is scanning, position the iPhone so that it is lined up with the product being scanned and follow our camera-handling tips for best results.
  5. You will hear a beep and VoiceOver will speak the name of the identified item when the scan has completed successfully.
  6. If you are unable to complete the scan after several minutes, flick to the right to find the Cancel button and double tap it so you may try again later.

We thank Nancy Miracle, president of Digital Miracles, the company that develops and sells Digit-Eyes, for providing some quick tips for successfully using the iPhone’s camera:

  • Make sure the screen curtain is not enabled. Digit-Eyes can’t see anything when the iPhone’s display is blank. Triple tap using three fingers to toggle the screen curtain on and off.
  • Make sure there is light for the camera to acquire a good image. If you are indoors, it may be necessary to turn on a light.
  • Place a finger immediately to the right of the camera, which is located in the upper-righthand corner of the iPhone when it is facing away from you. This will help you line it up with the item to be scanned.
  • Place the iPhone approximately two inches above the object and gradually move it upward. The recommended approximate distance varies according to the device being used. Place the iPhone 3 G S approximately six inches away from the object being scanned. The iPhone 4 should be placed between six and 12 inches away. The new iPod Touch should be placed 12 to 20 inches distant.
  • Never move the iPhone from side to side while scanning. The camera’s automatic focusing technology apparently can’t capture a good image under these conditions.
  • Gradually turn round objects like bottles, cans and jars clockwise or counterclockwise in increments of 60 degrees while scanning. Simply scan the four sides of rectangular and square objects. In most, but not all, cases, the barcode will be found on the front or back of a box.
  • The barcodes on many grocery and other products typically found in stores may be located in unexpected places. For example, the barcode may be located on the bottom of a box of breakfast cereal. It may be helpful to think about the way a product might be positioned on the conveyor belt in the grocery store during the check-out process to determine where to look for its barcode.
  • Keep in mind that the camera in the iPhone does not work like the ID Mate or other products based on laser barcode scanners. Using products like Digit-Eyes is going to require a great deal of patience and practice in the beginning while you learn effective techniques for estimating the correct distance between the iPhone and the item being scanned and lining the iPhone up with the product so that a clear picture can be taken.
  • The Digit-Eyes website contains exhaustive information and tutorials covering the effective use of the product. It even gives you the ability to print practice sheets of barcodes you can scan with your iPhone.
  • Nancy and I discussed Digit-Eyes and the iPhone’s camera in depth in a two-part interview broadcast on the July 24 and July 31 episodes of ACB Radio’s Main Menu technology show.

Have you found a technique for using the camera that works well for you? Do you have an interesting story to tell about how Digit-Eyes and other camera-based iPhone apps have helped increase your independence? If so, please share it with us in the comments.

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Categories: iPhone, tips, tutorials

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