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(Credit: Huawei)

Billions of people in countries across the world suffer from some form of blindness, limiting them in a number of different ways. Companies are now trying to harness the power of AI and apps to alleviate some of the problems associated with blindness, most notably issues that arise with telling the difference between different emotions.

Chinese electronics giant Huawei recently unveiled their Facing Emotions app, which turns seven basic human emotions into sounds that the blind can hear and identify. The app pairs with their Huawei Mate 20 Pro to help the blind recognize facial expressions and determine which emotion it corresponds to.

The seven emotions -- anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt -- were turned into easily-identifiable sounds by blind composer Tomasz Bilecki.

"The sounds I wanted to create needed to be specific for each emotion, and not distract users from their conversations," Bilecki told Dezeen yesterday.

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Huawei created the app in partnership with the Polish Blind Association and other groups that helped test and improve it before its release. The Android-only app uses the device's powerful camera and AI to scan a person's face and identify emotions based on the positioning of the nose, eyes and mouth. Once the app identifies the facial features, it decides what emotion is represented and plays one of the seven tunes, allowing a blind person to "see" how the other person is reacting to certain situations.

Huawei's Consumer Business Group president Wang Tao said in a press release that the app "embodies Huawei's mission to bring new technology to everyone, especially those that need it most."

"Facing Emotions was created to push the possibilities of AI technology," the company said.

"By asking 'how can AI help the blind and visually impaired to experience or 'see' more of the world? This makes it possible for the blind and visually impaired to have a richer experience and understanding when communicating with others."

The company also had designer Janek Kochanski create a 3D-printed case that allows users to hang their device from their neck, which is useful for those who have to walk with a cane or are not able to use their hands. One of the best parts of the app is the ability to work with or without an internet connection, making it useful in a variety of settings.

Huawei tested the app extensively with blind users to make sure the sounds were "short, concise, simple, and non-invasive," as well as easily identifiable.

Many companies are investing heavily in "AI for good" causes, which attempt to harness the power of devices with artificial intelligence capabilities to help those with disabilities or other issues. Google, Microsoft and Intel are all working on different projects to use their technology to help the disabled in a number of different ways. This is not even Huawei's only effort to help the disabled. They recently released an AI tool called StorySign, which translates children's books into sign language.

The app is available for download here.

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Takeaways

  1. Huawei's Facing Emotions app helps blind users identify seven different emotions through AI-backed facial recognition software.
  2. The app uses the Huawei Mate 20 Pro device's powerful camera and AI to turn different emotions into sounds that can be relayed to blind users.

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Jonathan is a Contributing Writer for CNET's Download.com. He's a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.