Drug Labels That Speak To You

For seniors and visually impaired people, the fine print on a prescription drug bottle can be difficult to read--even potentially deadly. Now, help is on the way. En-Vision America Inc., a startup in Normal, Ill., has devised a system called ScripTalk that converts a label's printed directions into spoken words. The gadget will be tested at the U.S. Veterans Administration hospital in Hines, Ill. If all goes well, En-Vision expects to have ScripTalk on the market early next year.

The system has two basic components. One is a "smart" label containing a memory chip about 0.1 in. square. This chip can hold 2,000 bits of data, or roughly 250 characters. The second is a portable electronic reader for converting the stored text into artificial speech. When the two come within an inch of each other, a radio signal from the reader activates the chip to transmit its contents.

A special printer designed by Zebra Technologies Corp. (ZBRA) of Vernon Hills, Ill., is used to print and encode the labels. The aditional costs are expected to be less than $1 a label, which would be added to the cost of a prescription, says David B. Raistrick, vice-president of En-Vision. The reading device will run about $250.

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