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Overheard/Underheard: MIT Media Lab FingerReader Converts Text to Audio Signals for Vision-Impaired

By Leonard Klie - Posted Jul 31, 2014
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Scientists at MIT have been working on a device that can be worn on the finger like a ring that will convert text into audio signals. Its most obvious use case is for the blind and visually impaired, quickly making books, restaurant menus, and other printed materials needed for daily living accessible to all.

A prototype of the FingerReader was recently produced on a 3-D printer. It contains a small camera that scans text and a synthesized voice that reads the text aloud. Special software tracks the finger movement, identifies the printed text, and processes the information. The device can provide haptic (touch) feedback about the layout, identifying the start and end of lines, new lines, and other visual elements. Vibration motors can even alert the user when he strays away from the printed text.

The device has been three years in the making, with much of that time spent on software coding, experimenting with various designs, and collecting feedback from a test group of visually impaired users. Roy Shilkrot, one of the people developing the device at the MIT Media Lab, says a lot of work still needs to be done before the FingerReader is ready to go to market.

The FingerReader can read papers, books, magazines, newspapers, and computer screens, but it has problems with text on a touch screen because touching the screen with the tip of the finger moves text around, producing unintended results.

Developers are not ready yet to talk about price, but they acknowledge that affordability will definitely be a factor. The market potential for such a device, they point out, includes roughly 11.2 million people in the United States with vision impairment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


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