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Mihika Jindal

Apps with a social conscience, from Speak4Deaf to Helping Faceless

Helping Faceless app

was abducted as a child and if it wasn't for a stranger, my life would have been very different. This has always stayed with me and I've wanted to do something about child trafficking in India for a long time, says Shashank Singh. A computer science engineer, Singh co-founded Helping Faceless with Amol Gupta, an Android developer, in November 2013. This self-funded non-profit venture uses an Android app (which will soon be available for iOS) to spread awareness about and combat trafficking.

The aim is to match photographs of street children that users send in with the photos of missing persons across existing government and NGO databases. "We ask our users, whom we call volunteers, to click pictures of children begging or wandering in the streets and upload them, using our app," Gupta says. "After uploading, our system takes about 10 minutes to run a search based on face recognition. The algorithm brings up the closest matches." The app seeks an input from users to ascertain if the two pictures — one uploaded and the other pulled out from the database — are similar. One can choose to click on either of three available options — "yes", "no" and "can't say" — which helps ascertain if a missing child has been found. "We have been able to reinstate three children. Even though this number is still small, we have made a beginning somewhere," Singh says. Image 2nd

Singh explains that facial expressions, age and the angle of the picture make a huge difference. They are enhancing their system to adopt a 3D model that constructs a human face based on multiple pictures and relies on the basic bone structure more than expressions. They have a tie-up with Kairos, a well-known face recognition technology, and things are moving fast for Helping Faceless. Besides being approached by international NGOs, they are collaborating with the Bolivian government, which will soon launch Helping Faceless across countries in South America.

From the Ice Bucket Challenge to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, technology is increasingly being harnessed to promote social causes. The Delhi Police recently launched a mobile app called Himmat, which enables women to send distress calls to the police control room and emergency contacts, should they ever find themselves in a threatening situation. Another inventive new app is Awarathon, which tests a user's awareness about social issues, from women's empowerment to animal welfare.

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From the Ice Bucket Challenge to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, technology is increasingly being harnessed to promote social causes. Delhi Police recently launched a mobile app called Himmat, which enables women to send distress calls to the police control room and emergency contacts.

Yet another remarkable venture is Speak4Deaf, developed by a four-member team — Nisha Advani, Apeksha Bhat, Sayali Bora and Shubhangi Yerolkar — from the Vishwakarma Institute of Information Technology, Pune. The students developed this app to assist the visually and aurally impaired as part of their final year project. "We were firm about investing our time and energy in something practical, something that would matter," says Advani. As part of their research, they visited Adhar Muk Badhir Vidyalaya, a school for the deaf and dumb. Moved by the experience, they decided to develop a way to help the students there communicate. "The kids there were absolutely fluent while talking to each other through sign language, but we couldn't understand anything," says Advani. They realised that although there were sign language Android apps based on English, these were of no use to Hindi and regional language schools in India. "We initially thought of developing the app in Marathi, as Aadhar is a Marathi medium school, but Google doesn't support Marathi. So we resorted to Hindi," says Advani.

Speak4Deaf is a prototype that has been rolled out only forAadhar. Still in its nascent stages, the app works on two modules. "It displays a keyboard where the conventional letter keys are replaced by an exhaustive set of sign keys," Sayali Bora explains. "Any deaf or dumb person using the app can punch in the sign keys, which are converted to speech by the app and then read out by the device. From the other side, the app captures the speech and converts it into series of signs that are flashed onto the screen for the user to understand." Jayant Vankhede, a teacher at Aadhar, says that older students have been using the app for about three to four months and "are able to communicate with the grocer and other shopkeepers". The app's source code has been retained by VIIT, with the possibility of improving upon its functionality and eventually publishing it.

 
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