RNIB begins artificial intelligence project  

05 Feb 2021 News

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), has begun a project to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve its services.

It has partnered with technology firm Alana, which develops conversational software. The initial phase of the project will look at ways to enhance existing RNIB support services provided over the telephone and digitally.

RNIB's Sight Loss Advice Service offers support over the phone, in eye clinics and digitally. This provides information on eye conditions, legal rights, education, technology and employment alongside emotional well-being services and signposting to services and resources offered by local societies. 

Alana AI software delivers conversation based on context, device and location and knows each user and remembers previous conversations.

Lance Blackstone, Alana’s non-executive chair, said: “Our first encounter with RNIB was a revelation. I don't think I have ever been moved quite so much in a business presentation before. When both sides began to fully appreciate what Alana can do to enhance the lives of blind people, and particularly those who are lonely or isolated, it was a humbling moment.”

Alana is developing a tool which will identify objects and find further information about the physical environment, automating the BeMyEyes App, which connects those who have sight loss with fully-sighted volunteers.

David Clarke, director of services at RNIB, said: “Advances in technology and connectivity have transformed the lives of blind and partially sighted people for the better. Using the digital tools we have today, like electronic braille, screen reading software and specialist smartphone apps, it’s never been more possible for people with sight loss to lead full and independent lives. 

“As technology continues to develop, it brings a host of wonderful new opportunities. The advent of AI is particularly exciting with wide-reaching possibilities, and we are looking forward to working with Alana to see how this new technology can benefit our community.” 

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