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NPR Labs Lays Groundwork for Alerts for Deaf

The Labs envisions collecting emergency messages and transmitting them over the Public Radio Satellite System

NPR Labs personnel hope to start a project soon that demonstrates an emergency alerting system for the deaf and hard-of-hearing population in the U.S. using broadcast radio as the transmission medium.

I caught up with NPR Labs Manager of Strategic Technology Applications Rich Rarey as he was meeting with FM RDS/HD Radio receiver manufacturers at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show to investigate potential manufacturing support for the concept. Rarey spent the time at CES highlighting to radio receiver manufacturers the universal appeal to deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers that would benefit hearing consumers as well.

The Labs envisions collecting emergency messages and transmitting them over the Public Radio Satellite System to properly equipped public radio stations. From those stations, a firmware device at each station will determine if the message is relevant to the station’s coverage area, and then transmit the message to an accessible receiver.

The aim is to develop a deaf/HOH-accessible radio receiver with a large text display and bright flashing light to alert the user. “There are several good receivers in the marketplace that alert the consumer,” Rarey said. “Those are existing radios with aural warnings, or they’re FM/HD Radio receivers that have very small text displays without accessible warning mechanisms. We want to create a receiver that is useful for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, which will also be useful for alerting the general public.”

NPR Labs radio captioning work continues. Sam Goldman, manager of Software Development Research Projects, has developed systems with the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology at Towson University that provided real-time captioning for the 2012 presidential debates. For the future, he tells me he’s looking to link real-time captioning to program transcription generation, so that participating stations and program producers can quickly publish the audio and transcription from their broadcast programs.

Switching to NPR’s upcoming move to a refurbished building in another part of Washington, the Labs is looking forward to the expanded facilities in the new NPR headquarters which will be operational in April. NPR Labs will have a much larger test lab, with an RF screen room, in addition to a dedicated, ITU-compliant critical listening room for audio and RF test projects in the future.

The move, skedded to occur April 1, is on-track, NPR Labs folks tell me.