Cambridge Evening News, "The Business" 06/04/04
break-step's invention for the blind
By Jenny Chapman
He calls it "an advance on the white cane", but the technology Patrick Andrews
and his associates have developed could revolutionise everyday life for the
Dr Andrews' company, Break- Step Productions, based at St John's Innovation
Centre in Cambridge, is working with the Royal National Institute for the Blind
in Peterborough on software that allows a small, hand-held device to be pointed
at various objects, recognise them and tell the blind person what they are via
In the home this could involve finding foodstuffs in cupboards, identifying
music CDs, even searching for lost items.
break-step, which consists of an elite handful of scientists and experts
scattered around the world, has come up with a way of teaching a computer to
recognise an object after just one "sighting", or a single click. And this is
where the technology scores over anything else currently available throughout
As well as helping blind people, the new software, known as Foveola, is
currently being evaluated by some of the world's largest corporations for other
possible applications. Break-Step sells an evaluation model via its website for
Dr Andrews, who used to be a consultant with PA, and Generics Group, started
Break-Step a year ago after studying the human brain cells that connect with the
An engineer by training, he combined the two disciplines to develop Foveola,
working in close collaboration with experts around the world, although he says
his inspiration came from the late Prof Fergus Campbell at Cambridge University.
Dr Andrews said: "I am particularly interested in vision. It is something we all
take for granted. I thought it would be interesting to develop a machine that
could look at things in the same way as people do."
Experts who are involved with the Foveola project include Dr Adar Pelah at
Cambridge University and Peter Lucas, a Bletchley Park veteran, who is helping
to develop the user specification.
break-step is working in what is known as the "assistive technology" market
which is potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Other applications include automatic scanning of X-ray machines used at airports
and other points of entry, and Dr Andrews' pet project, a robot dog that can
help young children to learn shapes, letters and sums.