The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa. It undertakes directed research and development for socio-economic growth.

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December 2011

Information and communications technology

Notetaker recognised by SAB Foundation Innovation Awards

SAB introduced the inaugural SAB Foundation Innovation Awards on Monday 31 October 2011, in Sandton. “The foundation rewards entrepreneurs who are driven by the need for innovation”, said Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, businessman and chairperson of the foundation. These awards recognise individuals who come up with unique and practical ideas that could enhance the lives of women, youth, the disabled and people living in rural areas. The Notetaker made the short-list of 18, from over a hundred applications which were received. The Notetaker was one of 5 recipients of a seed grant to develop the innovation. It was recognised for making an impact by improving the lives of blind South Africans.

The Notetaker is a first of its kind in South Africa in that it is a customised solution that provides support for multiple local languages, including English, Sepedi, Afrikaans, Setswana and an experimental Zulu voice. The Notetaker is one of the assistive technologies that emerged from the National Accessibility Programme (NAP), aimed at mainstreaming persons with disabilities into society through the use of information and communications technologies (ICT).

Van der Walt was also responsible for developing eSpeak for Afrikaans and Sepedi. eSpeak is a compact open source software speech synthesiser for English and other languages, written in C++ for use on the Linux and Windows operating systems. It uses a different synthesis method from other open-source TTS engines and produces clear articulation.

He worked extensively with fellow researcher, Gerhard van den Berg, on the development of the Notetaker.

Van der Walt, who is blind, is excited about his grant. He said, “The grant will be used to build an updated version of the Notetaker using more modern hardware and software, which will also be tested in the field”. The grant will be utilised for two key deliverables; namely the development of a complete technology package that is ready for transfer to a licensee/manufacturer, and a route-to-market implementation plan.

First prize went to Reef Gardening, owned by 25-year-old Claire Reid, who walked away with a R1 m investment for her community gardening product, Garden in a box.

The CSIR is currently searching for potential partners to assist in taking the Notetaker to market, and making it available and accessible in the hands of people who need it most.

Nicki Koorbanally

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