Monday, September 10, 2012


Machines that Read Aloud

In 1976, Ray Kurzweil was the first person to put a scanner, optical character recognition software (OCR), and computerized text-to-speech together into one machine. This machine called the Kurzweil Reading Machine could process print and read out loud to a person. His first reading machine was the size of a home dishwasher. This machine would scan a page of a book and read the page aloud. The original Kurzweil Reading Machine cost $50,000. The first person to own the Kurzweil Reading Machine was the Grammy award song writer and singer Stevie Wonder.

The Kurzweil Reading Machine was a dedicated scanner-computer was used only for reading. The second generation Kurzweil Reading Machine cost $15,000. I had one of these machines at work. The third generation Kurzweil Reading Machine cost $5000. I purchased one of these machines for myself to read books at home. Since I am legally blind instead of spending money on a car, I bought a reading machine instead. However, at these prices generally only institutions could afford to purchase a reading machines.

The major advantage of the Kurzweil Reading Machine was that I could read any book at anytime. I no longer needed to find a person to read to me or send books away to be recorded. Later on Kurzweil Education Systems came out with the scanning-reading software Kurzweil 3000 which ran on a personal computer. With a scanner and a PC, I scanned many books to read. However this software was expensive costing $1,400. At this price tag the Kurzweil 3000 software is still to expensive for most families to afford.

Today one can skip the scanning process entirely. A person can obtain ebooks which can be read aloud using the free build in text-to-speech on an iPad, iPhone, or an iPod Touch. You can get the introductory iPod Touch for $200. I have read a large number of books on my iPodTouch and iPad. I have a friend who prefers to read ebooks on his iPhone. The great advantage of reading with Apple's iDevices are their portability. I now carry a library of books with me wherever I go.

Fortunately there is a wide selection of ebooks available to read. You can purchase ebooks from Apple's iBook Store. If you have a print disability like dyslexia or a disability which prevents you from reading books and live in the United States, you can also get ebooks from K-12 students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and a disability which prevents reading a regular book qualify to free ebooks from Bookshare. Other individuals with a disability that interferes with reading can get unlimited ebooks from Bookshare for an annual fee of $50 a year.

Image is of the first generation Kurzweil Reading Machine.

Hi James,
Very interesting article on the KRM. I began selling Kurzweil in 1984 and have mostly fond memories of selling it. The not so fond memory is having to transport it around and lift it up stairs in old buildings that, due to a general lack of awareness about access in the early 1980s, did not have elevators. At 350 pounds or so in weight, the KRM required 4 people (one at each corner) to lift it up and around obstacles.
Would you be interested in doing a review of the Kurzweil 1000 v13 that became available this summer?
If so please let me know. Thanks, David Bradburn
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