According to the World Health Organization, about 285 million people world-wide, are living with some type of visual impairment.
In the US, approximately 11.2 million people have a visual impairment, per the US Census Bureau.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, have developed a device, when worn on the index-finger, assists the visually impaired by reading words.
Made using a 3D printer, this small device (worn like a ring), includes a tiny built-in camera used for scanning words and text lines.
It’s called the FingerReader.
Wearing this ring-like device and pointing your index finger at some text, will cause the FingerReader to audibly read the words it sees.
This text could be from a newspaper, book, menu, or even from a computer display screen.
The FingerReader makes use of computing hardware and programming software.
Software programs include a text extraction algorithm using a Tesseract optical character reader (OCR) for processing video input.
A Flite Text-to-Speech (TTS) program is also used, as well as different tactile, haptic (vibration) output expressions, which guide the user during the course of reading through the text.
The FingerReader is attached to a thin cable, which, in turn, is connected to a computer.
The software used works on both Windows and Mac operating systems.
While watching a demonstration video, yours truly observed a person opening a book. While wearing the FingerReader, this individual pointed to the first line of text.
These first words, as seen by the FingerReader’s mini-camera, were sent to the OCR program, where they were deciphered.
The TTS program then audibly read the words over the computer’s speakers.
Each word the user’s index-finger points to along the text line, is seen by the camera, analyzed, and converted into audible speech.
As the user’s finger scans the lines of text, the visual input is being sent through the computing program.
If the user’s finger veers away from the text line, an audible and tactile feedback response is given to guide them back to the line of text.
A haptic signal output to the user’s finger is also transmitted when an end-of-text line or beginning text line is found.
The FingerReader, in addition to reading aloud the current word as the finger passes over it, is also looking ahead and analyzing the next word.
The tiny embedded camera is reading the text from a fixed distance.
Because the camera is stationary on the index finger, it can more easily focus on the line of text it needs to identify.
In addition to assisting those with visual impairments, the FingerReader may someday be used for language translation support.
It is envisioned, a user will be able to point their finger at text written in an unknown language, speak the word, translate, and have the text automatically read back in the desired language.
Granted, there are applications currently available on smart devices for translating text.
However, wearing a flexible, ring-like device you operate by finger-swiping along a text line would be more convenient, and faster.
The FingerReader looks to have the potential of becoming a beneficial, user-wearable technology one can easily operate, and have with them while on-the-go.
Currently, most TTS readers are large stand-alone or handheld devices.
I feel confident we will be hearing more about this wearable FingerReader in the near future.
The researchers emphasized how the FingerReader employs the natural technique of using one’s index finger for following text on a written page.
They also said advantages of the FingerReader include providing real-time feedback on the selected text “within the progression of the [FingerReader’s camera] scan,” versus other devices which instead capture one whole page of text at a time.
According to the researchers, the FingerReader is still undergoing development, and is being improved upon.
One future improvement could enable the FingerReader to be interfaced with a smartphone or other mobile device via wireless Bluetooth technology.
In addition to assisting people with visual impairments, the researchers believe the FingerReader has the potential to be of value to the elderly, children, language students, and tourists.
Whom to work with, and how best to market the final FingerReader product into the public domain, is still being considered.
Devices and programs currently available for capturing and analyzing text include Apple’s SayText, which is available on iTunes at http://tinyurl.com/bytes-SayText.
The Google Play store provides an ABBYY TextGrabber + Translator at http://tinyurl.com/bytes-abbyy.
Text Detective is an application which can be used on an iPhone or Android smartphone. This app will detect text and read it aloud. It’s available at http://blindsight.com/textdetective.
You can see a screen capture of the FingerReader during its testing I uploaded to my Photobucket page a: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-finger2.
More information about the FingerReader can be found on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s website at http://tinyurl.com/bytes-finger1.