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The FingerReader Picks up Where Braille Leaves Off (video)

ring_in_use_corrected[1] Here’s a new use for an old lab project.

While many books have already been digitized, sometimes the visually disabled can’t access them and sometimes a title might not be available at all. That’s where the FingerReader comes in.

The FingerReader is the latest project to come out of the MIT Media Lab. It combines a camera mounted in the white ring shown at right with OCR software running on a PC. The user merely points at the words they are trying to read and the FingerReader scans it, coverts the image to text, and says it aloud.

Here’s the Media Lab explaining the project:

The FingerReader is a wearable device that assists in reading printed text. It is a tool both for visually impaired people that require help with accessing printed text, as well as an aid for language translation. Wearers scan a text line with their finger and receive an audio feedback of the words and a haptic feedback of the layout: start and end of line, new line, and other cues. The FingerReader algorithm knows to detect and give feedback when the user veers away from the baseline of the text, and helps them maintain a straight scanning motion within the line.

As you can see in the video below, the prototype doesn’t work very well. Even though they’ve been working on similar projects for at least a couple years, it’s still slow and somewhat inaccurate (and in dire need of a better voice synthesizer).

There’s no plans as of yet to develop this into a commercial product, which is probably a good thing.  It’s a rather clunky and expensive way to solve a problem few have, and I think developing similar tech based on a smartphone would be both more cost effective and more fucntional.

In fact, for the most part that tech already exists. iPhones and most Android smartphones already have the camera and TTS which would be needed for this project, and they’re pretty good too. All that is missing is an app to covert what the camera sees into text which could be spoken aloud.

An app like this, or this, or this, would fit the bill nicely. They already do pretty much everything that the FingerReader can do, rendering this project redundant.


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Anon February 24, 2014 um 12:10 pm

Have you ever tried to use these apps? Have you ever tried using them as a visually impaired person? Have you ever tried positioning a smartphone camera or a camera at all without any visual guidance to capture a piece of printed text?

I guess not.

Valentine February 24, 2014 um 6:10 pm

I’m an avid reader, and for a time, I wondered if I could fit some books in the time when I go out walking, like an audiobook.
Most audiobooks are cool, well read, very nice, a real pleasure. But they’re rare, so, out of sheer curiosity, I tried some apps that read out loud straight from text. Very … artificial, not an enjoyable experience especially after trying audiobooks, you would have to be desperate (or blind) to use that alternative.

Also, I wish people would stop with the "there’s an app for that". Smart phones are gadgets, they do a lot of things, and do them poorly. Poor GPS, poor photos, poor reading, poor gaming, etc etc etc. Even their basic function of making and receiving calls is lousy because battery life is measured in hours or days instead of weeks.

Xendula February 24, 2014 um 11:12 pm

This device is a bit perplexing, being that a blind person would not be able to see the lines he/she would need to glide their finger over. So how would they know there is something to read, unless they have a book in front of them.

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