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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 August, 2003, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Speaking scanner checks out labels
The barcode scanner can read product infornation aloud
A barcode scanner which can read aloud food ingredient labels has been unveiled by scientists.

It is hoped the scanner, developed at two Scottish universities, will benefit people who cannot read small print on product labels.

Scientists at the University of Strathclyde and Dundee University, who dubbed the invention Tele-eye, also hope it will act as a safeguard for people with food allergies.

About one in five people in the UK are unable to read small print on food or medicine labels, according to the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Reading a label

Dr David Carus, mechanical engineering expert at the University of Strathclyde, who helped create the device, said it could give more independence to people previously reliant on carers or assistants.

He said: "For so-called normal people reading a label on supermarket products can be difficult, so for people with sight problems, they just can't read it.

"By using a standard barcode reader, customers can identify the product and access information which has been programmed into the supermarkets' database.

"For many people with food allergies or requirements, not knowing what you are buying can be very dangerous, and the technology can eliminate this."

It has been on trial at a supermarket in Carnoustie, in Angus, for the last four months.

The scanner would be linked to a supermarket database

Nutritional information about products is programmed into the machine's database and will be read out aloud to customers when they scan individual barcodes against it.

The system, which consists of a PC and barcode scanner, gives spoken warnings about common allergies and information on ingredients, product weight and nutritional value.

The project is part of the EU-backed PACKAGE scheme, which seeks to make consumer packaging more accessible.

The inventors are in talks with supermarket Tesco and are preparing a report for the industry on shoppers' response to the trial, which ends in October.

Academics hope the system could be made portable by using mobile phones connected to barcode reader attachments, allowing users a hand-held method of checking product information.

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