Lego has announced a new innovation that will help widen the number and types of kids that get to build structures from little toy blocks, especially those with blindness or vision impairment.
Specifically, Lego announced this morning that they had launched a pilot program that’s part of their accessibility initiative where they will start introducing new building instructions for select kits available as Braille or text for voice readers.
The Danish toymaker has announced that their new program will implore the power of AI to automate the time-consuming process.
To achieve the time-cutting AI work, Lego has worked with the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence to develop a machine-learning system that would translate the 3D models and instructions for assembling a Lego into step by step text-based descriptions that can be displayed on a Braille reader or read aloud by a screen reader as voice instructions.
The AI, which is being LXFML or LEGO Exchange Format Mel Script, is still being perfected but Lego hopes that it will soon be able to translate the currently extensive library of the game sets the company has in the disposal. In the future, they also that LXFML will be able to do the translation job as soon as a new set is released and not only in English but in any language required, and all with minimal additional effort or human input.
For now, the service is available for free through the Lego Audio Instructions site. However, it’s still in pilot mode, which mostly means it’s currently limited to four kits, that include Lego Classic Bricks and Ideas, Lego Friends Emma’s Art Shop, Lego City Sky Police Drone Chase, and The Lego Movie 2 Emmet and Benny’s ‘Build and Fix’ Workshop. Additionally, the translated instruction manuals in these four kits are currently only available in English, at least for now.
The company is currently collecting feedback from people who are going to try the new features, especially those blind and visually impaired in order to make any necessary changes and improvements.
So far, there are already plans to build out its offerings at some point in the first half of next year.
A Lego playset has never been keen on introducing Braille or text-for-voice instruction in the past because even though some children are blind or visually impaired, they still had the freedom to attach one brick with one another and let their imaginations make out what they have crafted.
However, in the recent past years, the company’s popularity increased due to the introduction of licensed sets. Lego had begun offering children the capability of building a Star Wars spacecraft or even an upside-down house from Stranger Things block by block with the help of long and very visual instruction sheets.
These sets are the kinds of Lego playsets that the company wants to bridge the difference between healthy kids and those with visual impairments.
The idea comes from Matthew Shifrin, a blind 22-year-old Lego enthusiast. He approached the saying that: “I had a friend, Lilya, who would write down all the building steps for me so that I could upload them into a system that allowed me to read the building steps on a Braille reader through my fingers,” he says in a release.
Shifrin was referring to Lilya Finkel who originally gifted him an 841-piece Lego set on his 13th birthday. Along with the massive box came with hundreds of pages that translated the set’s building instructions into a special notation she had developed that verbally described how all the pieces assembled, without the use of any images.
Finkel eventually created translations for over 20 more Lego sets, but it was an extremely time-consuming process, and unfortunately, she passed away in 2017.
“She learned Braille to engage with me and support my LEGO passion, and then spent countless hours translating LEGO instructions into Braille,” Shifrin shared.
Now, with the first four sets available to the public to enjoy and with AI in development, it should not be long before the blind and visually impaired kids to enjoy more Lego sets.
For now, the four kits are available on this website.