Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review of the iBill talking banknote identifier

I previously posted the news announcing the introduction of the iBill electronic banknote identifier, and now, I offer my review of this latest piece of assistive technology for the blind and visually impaired.

I’ll admit that when I first read that
Orbit Research
was offering this tool at size, weight, speed, and price thresholds that I have never heard of previously, I was skeptical. I thought to myself that this must be a bit of exaggeration on some part. Surely, this device couldn’t do everything they advertise and they can still sell the unit for only $99.

Well, the people at Orbit Research were right.

If you want to listen to my podcast of the review and hear a demonstration of the iBill in action, its on

I’ll boil the iBill down to a few words: Compact, lightweight, fast, accurate, easy to use, and, most importantly, in the realm of assistive technology, affordable.

The iBill is small enough to carry in your pocket. Measuring 3 inches wide (just wide enough to insert the end of a bill) by 1.6 inches long, and less than ¾ of an inch thick, it fits easily in your pocket or purse among your keys and USB jump drives. When you hold it, the iBill fits handily in your palm.

And, being lightweight is another one of its feature facets. At just 1.5 ounces, you hardly even realize the iBill is present until you need it.

The iBill has only two buttons on it to operate the unit and change between the five output settings, the iBill is very simple to use. It comes with both a quick start guide and a user’s manual, both of which are well written with clearly defined directions, and easily explaining the unit’s design and operation.

I tried the iBill with bills in denominations or $1, 5, 10, and 20. I’ll give the iBill the benefit of the doubt and figure it will do as well on the $2, 50, and 100 denominations that I didn’t use.

I intentionally tried to test the limits of the iBill. I first inserted each bill correctly, making sure the corners and edges were smooth and flat. It correctly identified each bill I gave it in about one second. The iBill literature claims a recognition speed of one second. Check.

I tried to see if the product would give incorrect readings if the bills had folded or wrinkled corners. When it couldn’t identify a bill, it beeped to let me know it was trying to figure it out, but after about 3-5 seconds, it gave me an “Error” message. It never misidentified a bill. If it couldn’t recognize a bill, it announced, “Error.” The iBill brochure says it is 99.9% accurate. Check.

The output settings on the iBill include low, medium and loud spoken audio, a vibration mode, and a tone mode. The spoken audio modes were very acceptable for different settings and announced clear, easy to understand spoken denominations in a female voice.

The tone mode worked very well to identify the bills, too. There is a low tone in sequences of 1, 2, and 3, tones for $1, 2, and 5 bills, and a high tone in that same sequence for $10, 20, and 50 bills, all respectively, as well as a low-high, low-high sequence for $100.

However, Where I see this as a powerful tool, besides as a quality bill identifier for those of us who are totally blind, is as an equally great product for anybody who is deafblind. With the vibration mode, there are sequences of short or long pulses in identical sequences of the tone mode to quickly identify the different denominations. There’s even a very long pulse for an error message.

The iBill I tested was a pre-production review unit. I was told that there was a design change to the battery compartment cover, as the pre-production model’s cover was difficult to open. I didn’t need to change the battery, as they had a brand new one installed, but was curious to see how difficult it would be to open. After trying several times, I never did get it open, so I hope the new model is easier to open.

I also demonstrated this product to several visually impaired students and professional staff members who work with these students. With a brief introduction, all but one of the students was able to quickly make the iBill work. The one who had the most difficulty was the only one who was totally blind. All were impressed with the design speed, and accuracy of the iBill.

The only constructive feedback anybody offered was a suggestion that there might be an inset on one of the rear corners where a key ring might be attached. This was suggested as possibly aiding in orienting the user to the iBill. There were no complaints about how the iBill operated.

To conclude, let me compare the iBill to previous models of similar products. In the past, I’ve handled a bill identifier that was probably three times the size of the iBill and several times the weight. That device was bulky and not easily carried in one’s pockets. Additionally, the lowest price I’ve ever seen for one of those units was $189. On those three fronts the iBill charges to the front of the pack, and it does so with a hard to beat accuracy rate and identification speeds faster than the KNFB Reader Mobile. For giving independence to people who are blind and visually impaired, this is a product that should find its way to one’s toolbox of assistive technology.

If you're interested in this product, the first shipments of the iBill are going out next week, just in time for Christmas. Those who have already contacted the company are being processed first. There will also be an online order form on the company's web site in the near future, so that you can order the product directly. I've told Santa to grab me one and even he had to leave his name and phone number. Even jolly old Saint Nick has to wait to get one of these.


Anonymous said...

hello great review it is informitive and helpful thanks and keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

I congratulate, what words..., a brilliant idea

Lon said...

Hi Ron,
I am glad Santa left this for you for Christmas this year. I like that you have the podcast thing going too. I meant to send you holiday greetings but Happy new year will have to do. Stay in touch...
Lon at No Limits to Learning

Anonymous said...

While the IBill sounds great, I have one complaint. They say it is easilly upgradable. That is not true. You have to send it back anytime new currency is introduced. I find this to be a major pain. This is anything but easy. Why can't they put a mini-USB port on it so we can update it from home.

Ron Graham said...

Hmm. I must admit that when bringing up the issue of upgrading, you address one facet here which I didn't consider in my review. A mini USB plug would definitely add to the ability to offer user installed upgrades, but, even if nominal, the cost of adding the port and cable would increase the end user cost as well. Nonetheless, I will pass your comments along to the folks at Orbit Research. It may be a design fixes they choose to incorporate in future models.

TSSurvey said...

Dear Bloggers,
We are student researchers in the Occupational Therapy department at San Jose State University and we need your help in conducting a study that is investigating the experiences of people with low vision and blindness when encountering touch screen devices in the community. You will be asked to complete and return a survey via email, mail or in person as applies. The results of this study should increase our understanding of how touch screens impact the low vision and blind community. Please take 15 minutes to visit to complete the survey and email it back before April 9, 2010. For more information please visit the mentioned website.
Thank you for you time and consideration!
Janelle, Michelle, Christine and Kelley, SJSU Students