Chieko Asakawa, Ph.D., SWE’s 2010 Achievement Award recipient, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF). At a ceremony held in May at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Dr. Asakawa was among the new inductees recognized for their patented inventions, which “revolutionized their industries and changed people’s lives.”
Each year, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, honors and celebrates the world’s foremost inventors and their contributions to society.
As in previous years, the 2019 inductees are visionary innovators, each of whom patented inventions that revolutionized their industries and changed people’s lives. In addition to Dr. Asakawa, this year’s inductees included one other woman, bioengineer Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Ph.D., of Rice University, who was honored for patenting medical devices for low-resource settings.
THE HOME PAGE READER
Dr. Asakawa invented the Home Page Reader (HPR), patent No. 7,197,462, and the first practical voice browser to provide effective internet access for blind and visually impaired computer users. Designed to enable users to surf the internet and navigate webpages through a computer’s numeric keypad instead of a mouse, HPR debuted in 1997; by 2003, it was widely used around the world.
She and her team developed HPR at IBM Research – Tokyo, combining existing synthetic-speech technology with an understanding of HTML programming. HPR enabled users to independently navigate the web, and it could speak text, frames, images, and text links; describe graphical elements such as clickable maps; allow users to understand complex tables, such as television listings; and differentiate content through devices like reading hyperlinks in a female voice and plain text in a male voice.
Dr. Asakawa’s contributions to accessibility technology have helped change how visually disabled individuals communicate and interact. Blind since the age of 14, her experience informs her work, which includes a digital system to input and edit Braille; a network allowing Braille libraries to upload documents and books; aDesigner, a disability simulator enabling sighted web developers to mimic the experience of blind users; and, most recently, the NavCog project, a collaboration between IBM Research and Carnegie Mellon University to use artificial intelligence, robotics, physical-positioning sensors, and computer-aided vision to supply real-world accessibility through smartphone apps.
Born in Osaka, Japan, Dr. Asakawa earned her doctorate in engineering from the University of Tokyo. She joined IBM in 1985 and was named an IBM fellow in 2009. She holds 20 patents and counts the SWE Achievement Award among her many honors.
She joins eight others — SWE members and SWE Achievement Award recipients — who have been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. They are: Beatrice Hicks; Mildred Dresselhaus, Ph.D.; Frances Arnold, Ph.D.; Yvonne Brill, F.SWE; Mária Telkes, Ph.D.; Edith Clarke; Barbara Liskov, Ph.D.; and Jacqueline Quinn, Ph.D.