Freedom Scientific Inc. is releasing today the PAC Mate, a revolutionary handheld for people who are blind. Using Microsoft Pocket PC technology in combination with the JAWS screen reader running on Windows CE, the PAC Mate converts objects and text to speech so users who are blind can hear documents, images, and Web content.
There will be two versions. The PAC Mate BNS offers Braille in and speech out capabilities and the PAC Mate TNS has a QWERTY-style keyboard with speech output.
It includes many of the standard Pocket PC applications and can use many third-party ones. Some of the more interesting third-party applications now being developed or tested for use with the PAC Mate include a personal GPS system that will give users a verbal reading of where they are in relation to that movie theater or office building they’re trying to find. This will be available in early 2003.
Another third-party application is a bar-code scanner that allows users to ascertain the price, contents, and characteristics of canned goods and other products, whether they’re shopping at the grocery store or preparing dinner in their own kitchen.
The PAC Mate BNS is approximately 10 inches wide and about 6 inches long, and weighs a little more than 1.5 pounds. The TNS model is 12 inches wide and 6 inches long and weighs just more than 2 pounds.
Both PAC Mate versions have a USB port, an IrDA port that can exchange files with other handhelds, and PC Card slot, and a CompactFlash slot.
They get about 18 of use on each battery and the user can change batteries.
Either PAC Mate model costs $2,600. This includes the carrying case but does not include the PC Card modem, which is an additional $120 (56K or Ethernet).