There is a new piece of technology being developed by scientists at MIT, they are working on an audio reading device that is worn on the finger of a person who is visually impaired, which gives them the ability to quickly read any text around them.
The device is being called the FingerReader and a prototype of it was made using a 3D printer. The reader fits on a person’s finger just like a ring, and it comes equipped with a small camera that scans the text. The words are read aloud by a synthesized voice which quickly translates books, restaurant menus, and any other materials needed for daily living. For a visually disabled person, reading can now be as easy as pointing their finger at the text. The finger movement is tracked with special software and it identifies the words and processes the information. According to Ray Shilkrot, who is developing the device at the MIT media lab, the device has vibration motors that alert the reader when they stray from script.
Jerry Berrier is a 62 year old man who was born blind, and the promise of this technology is especially important for him because of its ease of portability and the real-time functionality that can be very helpful in places like doctors offices, schools, and restaurants. Berrier comments that, “When I go to the doctor’s office, there may be forms I wanna read before I sign them.”
He says that there are other options when it comes to optical character recognition devices for people who are vision impaired, but this new device is the only one that is capable of reading in real time. Berrier works from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts where he is a manager of training and evaluation for a federal program that distributes technology to low income people in Rhode Island and Massachusetts who have lost their vision or hearing.
“Everywhere we go, for folks who have good eyesight, there are things that inform us about the products that we are about to interact with. I wanna be able to interact with those same products, regardless of how I have to do it,” Berrier says.
Pattie Maes is a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, she founded and now leads the Fluid Interfaces research group developing this prototype. She says that this reading device is like “reading with the tip of your finger and it’s a lot more flexible, a lot more immediate than any solution that they have right now.”
The development process of this device has taken three years of software coding, experimenting with several designs and working on feedback from a test group of people who are visually impaired. According to Shilkrot, there is a lot more work to be done before it is ready to be put on the market, including incorporating the device into cell phones. Shilkrot also said that they hope to make the device affordable, but they cannot yet give an estimate. The U.S. has 11.2 million people who suffer from vision impairment, so there should be a good sized market for this product once it’s ready.
Perhaps future models could enable not only the blind, but every citizen, to read and translate any language. This sort of innovation would offer convenience to those who travel and want to be able to communicate and get-around easier in other countries, as well as being able to decipher unfamiliar text and language within their own communities.