Wal-Mart and Target take note: Science students at the University of Southern California have designed Bar Code Reader, a program to help the visually impaired read information on grocery items by pointing their cellphones at supermarket shelves to hear descriptions of products and prices. The bar code is just one of many products designed during ProjectPossibility, a two-day competition aimed at developing computer programs that help disabled people expand their capabilities. Another futuristic program, which could also help the physically disabled become better online shoppers, is Mind Control, which allows the physically disabled to guide a computer mouse by neural impulses. Using using brain waves and eye movements to control computers is already at the cutting-edge of bionic research. Earlier this year, researchers at Duke University announced that they had proved monkeys can use their brainpower to control the walking patterns of robots, a major step toward helping victims of paralysis walk again. The bar code reader has been invented. Freedom Scientific’s ScanTalker claims to be able to read aloud more than one million food and general merchandise items off bar codes. It works with a pocket PC and costs $985. But USC students are the first to devise a program that works with existing cell phones.
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