A 17-year-old boy from Markham, Ont., has created an app to help people with visual impairments identify objects and texts with their phones.

The free app, called iDentifi, uses artificial intelligence and your phone's camera to tell the user what's in the photos they take. It's based on several existing technologies — such as Stanford University's ImageNet database of 300 million images and CloudSight API's image recognition capabilities — and combines them into one app.

For creator and recent high school grad Anmol Tukrel, the inspiration for the project stems from his time volunteering in India to help those who are visually impaired.

"Throughout my childhood, I volunteered at an eye institute with my family back in India," Tukrel told CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "It provides free treatment."

Afterwards, he interned at an ad agency that uses artificial intelligence, and the confluence of experiences led to him creating and working "probably hundreds" of hours on the app in the evenings and on the weekends during high school.

"I've always been interested in technology and artificial intelligence fascinated me," he said.  "I wanted to try a project on my own."

'People say they find it really useful'

According to Tukrel, the app boasts around 15,000 users in 96 countries, and has analyzed about 200,000 objects. It can read and translate texts in 27 languages, and can even recognize and differentiate between different brands — say, Coke and Pepsi.

So far, iDentifi has been received positively by users and netted Tukrel a slew of awards, such as the 2017 Weston Youth Innovation Award presented by the Ontario Science Centre last week — his app will be on display at the centre late this summer.

"People say they find it really useful; [it] gives them more independence doing day-to-day things," Tukrel said.

Balancing project with school work

Still, Tukrel aims to improve iDentifi by adding more features and refining the user experience, such as using different colours and increasing contrast in the app's interface so people with low vision can use it better. He also wants to partner and collaborate with organizations like the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, doctors and even Apple's Siri app.

"I spoke to people actually visually impaired and asked them what they wanted," he said, noting he plans to incorporate some of their suggestions during the summer.

But, as always, he'll have to balance his project with school work.

"I begin university in September," said Tukrel, who will be attending Stanford to study computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence.

"I'm probably going to keep it as it is and work on it on the side."


The free app, called iDentifi, uses artificial intelligence and your phone's camera to tell the user what's in the photos they take. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)