July 10, 2014

FingerReader Helps The Visually Impaired Read

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

For the visually-impaired, reading requires learning and comprehending the tactile language known as Braille, but a new gadget developed by engineers at MIT could make Braille obsolete.

According to a report released by the engineers, the device, called FingerReader, fits around the index finger and is able to read text in front of it by simply passing the index finger over a line of printed text.

For the prototype, a plastic ring-like part of the hardware was created via 3D printer which was then outfitted with a small camera. The device is then attached to a computer and software within the computer senses the finger movement, determines words and processes the information from the printed page. Finally, a synthesized voice reads the detected text aloud – allowing the device wearer to read everything from books to restaurant menus.

To keep visually impaired-readers from jumping up and down between lines of text, the engineers place tiny motors in the device that vibrate when the user begins to stray.

The team tested their device with the help of Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born visually impaired. Berrier told the Associated Press that the device could help him complete everyday tasks that most people take for granted.

Berrier is an ideal test subject as he works to distribute technology to low-income people living in New England who have lost their sight and hearing. He noted that there are similar devices on the market, but none that can read in real-time like the FingerReader.

"Everywhere we go, for folks who are sighted, 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 told the AP.

Pattie Maes, an MIT professor who helped to develop the prototype, compared the device to "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 engineers have been working on FingerReader for three years just to develop the software. They said it will take additional time to refine the technology – such as making it usable with a smartphone.

Pricing the device is another concern as the team said they couldn’t estimate a price just yet. However, they did say it would be made affordable, which is good news for the approximately 11.2 million people in the United States with vision impairment.

Berrier said reasonable pricing could make the FingerReader a major tool in helping people with vision impairment incorporate into the modern information economy.

"Any tool that we can get that gives us better access to printed material helps us to live fuller, richer, more productive lives," Berrier said.

Unfortunately, the MIT researchers said the FingerReader is unable to read touchscreens in its current configuration. This is because touching the screen with the index finger moves the text around – making it difficult for the device to read a sentence.


FOR THE KINDLE: The History of 3D Printing: redOrbit Press