The Bureau of Engraving and Printing will announce today that they have developed EyeNote,™ an app for iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) that will help the assist the blind and visually impaired determine the value of the U.S. currency they are holding.

According to the press release received this morning, EyeNote uses image recognition technology to determine a note’s denomination. The mobile device’s camera requires 51 percent of a note’s scanned image, front or back, to process. In a matter of seconds, EyeNote can provide an audible or vibrating response, and can denominate all Federal Reserve notes issued since 1996. The app will be updated as new notes are issued.

“Research indicates that more than 100,000 blind and visually impaired individuals currently own an Apple iPhone,” according to the BEP.

The EyeNote app is one of a variety of measures the government is working to deploy to assist the visually impaired community to denominate currency, as proposed in a recent Federal Register notice. These measures include implementing a Currency Reader Program whereby a United States resident, who is blind or visually impaired, may obtain a coupon that can be applied toward the purchase of a device to denominate United States currency; continuing to add large high contrast numerals and different background colors to redesigned currency; and, raised tactile features may be added to redesigned currency, which would provide users with a means of identifying each denomination via touch.

The app is only available for iOS devices. According to a representative from the BEP, “Future phone offerings cannot be definitely specified at this time, but there are tentative thoughts to make EyeNote available on other phones from other vendors once the iOS effort is launched.”

After downloading the free app from the iTunes App Store, it was installed on my iPhone and I tried it. I had two notes nearby, a $20 note and a torn $1 note. When the app starts, there is a page with brief instructions. Interestingly, for an app that is supposed to help the visually impaired, the instruction text is a bit small that cannot be expanded using the iPhone pinch motion. For those who cannot read it, it says:

Tap to begin. After beep, steady note 6 to 8 inches in front of the camera. Tap; shutter clicks; await result. Double tap to replay. Swipe left of right for spoken or privacy mode. In Voice OVer, single tap is double; double tap is triple. Switch out of VoiceOver to change spoken of privacy…

It seems the BEP needs to fix the grammar a bit.

On my iPhone 4, the LED flash was turned on, I positioned a $20 note reverse in front of the camera, tapped the display, and the camera sound played as it took the picture. After a few seconds, a woman’s voice told me that it saw the back of the $20 note. I found a $10 and $50 note. Both were identified on both sides with no problems.

After passing those tests, I tried the only $1 note I had: one that was used as a chew toy by one of my dogs. No matter how I positioned the camera, the app could not identify the note. While the app is impressive it would have been amazing if the app could have identified my torn note!

It is very rare that an app’s first release is as impressive as EyeNote. However, it is not perfect. The opening screen needs to either have a voice over or larger text. The instruction text needs work and the controls need to be better explained. I grade this app MS68+*. Yes, it gets the plus rating for being excellent in what it does and the star because once you figure out the controls, it has great eye appeal. I am very impressed with the effort. I hope the BEP fixes the issues I found.

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