A 1990s "talking paper" technology that didn't catch on


Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/09/a-1990s-talking-paper-tech.html


If I had to guess I’d say it was expensive, touchy, and sounded like heavily compressed low bitrate µ-law encoded audio even when it did work.


Wow, that’s how I sound when I want spaghetti.


In the example they used to help a blind person read the menu… braille seems like it would be faster.

Out of all of it, the only part I was thinking would be kinda cool is the photo album, but then I was thinking it would be fun to have the voices of the people of past generations. Not so much now.


That use case seemed like a bit of a stretch


File this under “interesting solutions looking for problems to be pitched on tv”


At first I didn’t realize the video wasn’t originally in English and thought the kid saying “How are you, Grandma!” was just unintelligible! I couldn’t figure out why they would have used that.


Braille is difficult enough to learn that not every blind person knows it. Also, if you are blind due to something like complications from diabetes then you may also have nerve damage in your fingertips.

Of course this ignores the obvious solution of just having the waiter go over the menu in person. It doesn’t take that long and it’s an unusual enough occurrence that we don’t need weird and expensive electronic solutions. And this is assuming the blind person made it to the restaurant on their own. If they are with someone that other person can just read the menu to them.


Wouldn’t it just have been easier to print a sound track?
It would be readily recognized by future generations, and there has to be some sort of scan-to-sound software out there now.


I’m assuming the digital printout takes up a lot less space than 50 seconds of an analogue printout.


This reminded me of those greeting cards you could get in the 90s that had recordable chips in them that would play back your message when the card was opened. And it didn’t even require an extraneous plastic handheld doohickey.



One has to know how to read Braille to use it. One has to have the ability to feel Braille to read it.

It’s a common misnomer that Braille is easy to learn or that everybody the ability to tactically read it. Braille wears out, sometimes only after a few readings, depending on storage and use. Also reading speed is variable depending on one’s tactility and one’s proficiency. Currently the estimate is that ~8% of people that are blind use Braille primarily (NFB). (I can’t find the reference, but from memory, those that could learn Braille with proficiency were < %15 of the BVI population. Take that with a grain of salt.)

As we age, the odds of us going blind increase. At 65, think about how hard it would be to learn a new way to read. It’s still taught, and should be. But take a look at an elevator some time. See the size of and spacing of the dots. Look at the tactile numbers and symbols that also accompany them for accessibility. Far more people lose their sight over time than are born blind. Also, people assume blind is 0 blind and can’t see, but that is the minority.

Lastly, think about personal autonomy. The ability to access the printed word without an intermediary person translating is liberating. It’s something we take for granted.

With technology, the need is disappearing, but the case example is exactly a niche market that would have jumped on it, had it been widely adopted.

Head to the CSUN coconferenceome time. For decades it has been a fantastic place to see dead technologies and ideas that were trying to fill accessibility needs. I have bought many a dead technology, as have other in hopes it would catch on. Seriously, head there. It is so much more interesting than Consumer Electronics Show, because it has a focus. Also, we are all temporarily abableodied and will need help accessing the world via technology as we age. The odds of going blind are low, but the odds of lost visual acuity and sensitivity are likely.

It was dead before the advertisement was printed. It was a one trick pony. It would only have made it, like the CueCat for a time, if the devices had been subsidized.


It is killing me I can’t find more info on this system.

It’s clearly from Olympus, but the company makes so many voice recorders and optical scanners that my searches are getting polluted by those hits.


And force users to scan at a constant rate?


Nowhere near compact enough to fit on a photograph like in the ad.

35mm film races past the scanner at 45 feet per minute. [1] That’s 9 inches per second. So on that photograph you might be able to encode roughly half a second of audio per line.

[1] http://www.davidelkins.com/cam/tables.htm


Considering it has a Japanese developer on camera makes me think this was developed in Japan. It’s possible there might be a patent document for it but if it was only patented in Japan… well… i don’t know how Japan handles those sorts of things so it may or may not be easy to find.


This reminds me of a dead-end technology I encountered in the 70s. I art-directed a prototype series of kids’ picture books teaching nutrition concepts. To each two-page spread was affixed a plastic phonograph record about 3 inches in diameter. The records, which contained about 30 seconds of audio, were played with a hand-held device the size of two original Game Boys stacked one atop the other. The reader fitted a peg on the reader into a hole in the record and pressed the Play button, causing a needle to move in a circle around the record–basically the opposite of the typical phonograph.

The fidelity was atrocious and the player almost impossible to use. Our prototype books never got beyond the mock-up stage. I’d be curious to know if anyone else encountered this pre-digital oddity.


Dead? Fisher-Price released the thing! Sound quality is actually pretty good. Segment starts at 14:22.


Well, I’ll be damned. They must have improved them considerably by the time they went to the mass market. On our project the sound was quite distorted with a lot of surface noise. Never knew the system went big-time.