Tim:So Maryfran, could you tell us, what are we looking at here? What is that _____on your right.
Maryfran:Today we are showing the emergency alerting work that we’ve worked on with CIMA for the deaf and hard of hearing. We are taking information from CIMA and channeling it through our network operations center in Washington, DC, and we have the ability to transmit it to our 1700 public radio stations around the country. And what we are doing is taking the CIMA information about emergencies such as floods, fires, hurricanes, tornados and we are displaying the text so that the deaf or hard of hearing user can see that text in real time.
Tim:Now how does the person know, if you are hard of hearing, how do you know that the alert has come in, is there additional signaling technology that is built into this hardware here?
Maryfran:We have developed an FM Receiver, and when the emergency alert occurs the receiver will flash lights that will flash on and off to gain the attention of the person who is deaf or hard of hearing.The FM receiver is battery operated, so in the event that the power goes out, you could still get the information. It is connected to a 7” Android tablet which displays the text and we also have the ability to connect a bed shaker to the back of the FM receiver. That means that if the emergency happens in the middle of the night the person who is deaf or hard of hearing can connect their bed shaker to the FM receiver and it will shake them awake. Then they can get out of bed and take a look at the text and see what the emergency is, and figure out if they need to take shelter.
Tim:Now it is localized in point, how tightly is it localized?
Maryfran:We are currently testing this in five Gulf Coast states with 26 public radio stations. There are about 500 users that are helping us with this project. We are doing this project in the late winter and early spring. It is a prototype right now. But our hope is, with CIMA support we will be able to roll this out on a wider scale. We really believe that this is going to save lives.
Tim:How much do you think this technology is likely to sell for as a package?
Maryfran:We have developed this prototype product for about $100. But it is really our hope that we will be able to produce larger quantities of it, and bring the price down.
Tim:Now besides it is an Android tablet, can you talk about the hardware itself? What are we looking at here? What is in the box?
Maryfran:We have a 7” Android tablet. The box is an FM receiver. It receives the information from the local NPR station or public radio station. It automatically zeroes in on the local station. So the end user does not have to fiddle with any dials to determine what that station is. Because in times of emergencies, when time is very important, you don’t want to have to be worrying about where the information is coming from—you just need to get that information.
Tim:Now I would like to go up a level and talk about the genesis of this product. So this comes out of NPR Labs, something that a lot of people listen to NPR but probably not many realize that you actually have a lab. So explain that.
Maryfran:NPR Labs is the research and development arm of NPR the public radio network. And we do a lot of work on engineering and technology development. We do a lot of consulting work, both for public radio stations but also for any organization or members of the public that are interested in getting more information about engineering, audio development, audio quality testing, power studies. In addition, we have been developing these new products and services that we think will enlarge the radio audience and retain the radio audience. We’ve discovered that about 15 million Americans are deaf and hard of hearing. And that’s because people are also aging into deafness. We are living longer, we are losing our hearing. We’ve been using earbuds, we’ve been going to rock concerts. So we think it is veryimportant to be able to have these enabling technologies that can empower people to take charge of their lives and get the information they need and be able to act on that information.
Tim:Now we’ve got this emergency alert system, but what about other uses for this sub band channel information, what about things like getting a transcript to A Prairie Home Companion and watch it on a screen?
Maryfran:We have had a separate pilot program working with Towson University in Maryland to develop captioning for radio. We’ve been very excited about it. We’ve been trying to develop captioning in real time. So we’ve been working with off-the-shelf software but also developing our own proprietary software and develop a process using voice writers to capture over-the-air broadcasters and respeak that information and translate it into both text and to Braille with about a 15-second latency. And we also have about a 98% accuracy rate—which is pretty incredible. It is important to us to make sure that the text is coming across with a very high accuracy rate because there are not the video clues that you might have as with televisions or a movie.
Tim:_____ ever hear that the public radio network should have any software that is proprietary. Is it software that is developed and won’t be freely available?
Maryfran:What we’re doing is we we’ve developed proprietary software but which is really for open use. And so we are really eager to work with others to bring this into the market because it is important that all Americans have the ability to listen to the radio, whether they are reading it or listening to it.
Tim:Can you talk about any of the other products that you got going?I think you have a Braille reader right over here.Can you talk about that?
Maryfran:We do have a Braille reader. So this is another example of how we are taking the text and then translating it to Braille. Here we have an example of what is called a brailler. Many folks who can read Braille and are blind would use this brailler to read from left to right. And it would carry the same information that is in text form, appears on the brailler.
Tim:Is this available now?
Maryfran:Many people who are blind and can read Braille have these braillers and they use them with their computers. So the work that we’ve done and the receivers that we’ve developed are to be used with some of the common braillers that you would use if you were blind and read braille.
Tim:So unlike the emergency alerter over here, this is more an application of software and of the captioning that you are working on independently.
Maryfran:It is an extension of what we have done.
Tim:Great. Now if people want to learn more about what NPR Labs does, what should they do?Is there a good website you’d recommend for them to look at?