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Let Your Finger Read to You

The visually challenged may soon have a technology-driven product to help them in their daily lives. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are in the process of creating an audio reading device worn on the index finger that will read out loud in real time to those who are unable to see. Called the FingerReader, this device currently has a prototype that has been created by a 3D printer.

The reader fits onto a finger just like a ring and has a built-in small camera that scans texts. A synthesized voice then reads out the words. The device will have the ability to read books, menus and all other reading materials that are a part of daily life in or out of the home or office. This is being touted as revolutionary, particularly for those with disabilities or poor vision who struggle with what others deem as daily tasks.

A new way to “read”

This device works by utilizing unique software that tracks the movements of the finger and identifies words. To prevent the user from straying away from the text, the device has a built-in vibrator that will be triggered upon such an occurrence, kind of like the grates on highways that wake up drivers if they veer off course. Early beta testers report that it’s easy to use, effective and has excellent accuracy.

The great thing about the FingerReader is its portability and its ability to read in real time. This makes it extremely useful in day-to-day functioning. Walking into a doctor's office or reading a notice on a school bulletin board will no longer be a challenge or embarrassing, especially when the reading can be done via headphones or otherwise volume controlled. While there are several optical character recognition devices in the market, none of them have the ability to read in real time.

Interaction made easy

One of the main issues those with visual trouble face is the inability to interact with a product. This happens all the time, whether at a grocery store, book store, supermarket, workplace or home. This new device is going to give those with a visual impairment an additional lease of independence, acting as an extension of the user rather than a crutch that can be cumbersome to deal with.

Three years of hard work (so far) has gone into the creation of this product, from software coding to testing various styles and collecting feedback from a test group. Designers had to work on ways to ensure that the user is reading text in a straight line and the reader's ability to alert the user about the beginning or the end of text is also essential. A lot more will need to be done before this product is market-ready, but so far the product has been designed to remain in an affordable bracket for many users.

A hot and ready market

However, any worries over cost barriers shouldn’t be an issue for the company, considering that the demand for a visual aid is around 11 million in the United States alone. There’s also the option of taking the product internationally, first with English-speaking countries and then expanding to other language markets.

However, what the consumer will have to understand is that this product is not aimed at replacing Braille. Instead, it will open up a world of reading material that was so far not accessible even through Braille. The FingerReader will be able to help a person read books, papers, magazines and even a computer screen. At present, the device's ability to read from a touch screen phone is not a possibility because a simple gesture may result in text moving around.

However, if the person disconnects the touch-screen function, the reader will do its job accurately.

There is still some time before the product makes its way to the market, but when it does, it will be a welcome technological addition. Leaps and bounds are being made in the world of communication, what with Google Gesture on the horizon, too. Communication has become more pressing than ever, and technology is doing impressively well when it comes to keeping pace.

iMedia Communications, Inc. is a trade publisher and event producer serving interactive media and marketing industries. The company was founded in September of 2001 and is a subsidiary of Comexposium USA.  ...

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