Aug 28, 2019 - Technology

Lego tests out AI to create spoken instructions for blind builders

Blind boy building legos

Photo: Lego

Aiming to make its signature bricks more accessible, Lego is testing the use of AI to translate its building instructions into spoken commands and braille so that blind users can get in on the fun.

The intrigue: The idea came from Matthew Shifrin, an expert Lego builder who was born blind. Matthew had a friend, Lilya, who would translate all of the Lego instructions from graphical steps into braille text.

What they're saying: Shifrin told Axios working with Legos helps blind kids in multiple ways. Building Lego sets not only provides a sense of mastery and accomplishment, but also helps people better understand the world around them.

"As a blind person, cultural landmarks are an abstract concept. I know that the Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol of America, but have no idea how it's shaped. It's a woman holding a torch and a scroll, that's all I know. If I climbed it, to try and understand its shaping better, I'd get arrested. But if I build the Statue out of Lego, then I become intimately familiar with its shaping and am better able to understand the world around me."
— Matthew Shifrin

For Shifrin, it's also a tribute to his friend Lilya, who died two years ago. "I promised myself that I would not let this project rest, until Lego took action," he said. "I'm so glad that they've taken it upon themselves to make their sets accessible to blind children."

To ensure the directions were accurate, Lego tested them with Shifrin and children from the U.K. and Denmark. Lego is starting out with four sets, with an eye toward expanding the program next year. The effort builds on Lego's introduction earlier this year of braille bricks.

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