Scientists from MIT develops breakthrough reading device for the blind

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An audio reading device for the visually-impaired is being developed by scientists at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology. It is supposedly called the FingerReader. This reading device is worn on the index finger and gives them affordable and immediate access to printed words.

The FingerReader has a prototype that has been produced by a 3D printer. It fits like a ring on the user’s index finger. It is equipped with a small camera that scans the text on the printed material.

The device works with a synthesized voice that reads words aloud. It can quickly translate books, restaurant menus and other essential materials for daily living.

To read, the person only has to point the finger with the device at the text. A specialized reading software tracks the finger movement, identifies words and processes the information. The device also contains vibration motors that can alert readers when they stray from the script.

Jerry Berrier, a 62-year-old manager for the training and evaluation aspect for a federal program that is concerned with distributing technology to low-income people who have lost their sight and hearing, said the FingerReader promises portability and real-time functionality. He said it is essential for daily living – at school, a doctor’s office and restaurants when eating out.

“When I go to the doctor’s office, there may be forms that I wanna read before I sign them. 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,” he explained.

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

Creating the FingerReader has already taken three years of software coding. It has taken years of experimenting with various designs and feedback, to working with a test group of visually impaired people. There is still a lot of work to be done to make it available commercially, including the hope of having it work on mobile phones.

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An MIT professor, Pattie Maes, founded and led the research group that developed the prototype. She said the 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.”

Roy Shilkrot, one of the members of the team developing the device at the MIT Media Lab said developers believe they will be able to market the FingerReader, but there is no estimated price available yet. He believes that the potential market includes some of the 11.2 million people that the United States Census Bureau reports to be the estimate number of people with vision impairment.

The FingerReader does not intend to replace Braille. The device aims to enable users to access a vast number of books and other materials that are not currently available in Braille format.