Kurzweil Computer Products was founded by inventor Ray Kurzweil in 1974 in order to develop optical character recognition (OCR) technologies.
At the time, available OCR systems could only recognize characters of specialized fonts, such as Courier or OCR A. To overcome this limitation, Kurzweil and his team set out to develop the first "omni-font" (any font) OCR technology. Using pattern recognition, Kurzweil defined the unique properties of characters that would allow his system to distinguish, for example, a capital A from a capital B in any font.
However, Kurzweil had no practical use for his new technology until he found himself next to a blind man on a plane flight. It was then that Kurzweil discovered a fundamental handicap of the blind: the inability to read printed material.
Kurzweil and his team immediately began work on a product which would help the blind to overcome this handicap. The team developed the first CCD flat-bed scanner and the first text-to-speech synthesizer, combining these technologies with their omni-font OCR system to create the first print-to-speech reading machine. The Kurzweil Reading Machine for the blind was announced on January 13, 1976 and was used by news anchor Walter Cronkite to deliver his signature sign-off: "And that's the way it was, January 13, 1976."
After hearing about the subsequent appearance of Kurzweil and his reading machine on The Today Show, musician Stevie Wonder visited Kurzweil Computer Products and was so enthralled with the machine that he walked away with the first production unit of the Kurzweil Reading Machine. The relationship between Ray Kurzweil and Stevie Wonder would later lead to the founding of Kurzweil Music Systems in 1982.
After attracting attention for its OCR technology, Kurzweil Computer Products was purchased by Xerox in 1980. An updated version of the technology, called Xerox TextBridge, is still sold.