Hot out of the labs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a prototype audio reading device, called the “FingerReader.” The FingerReader fits on the index finger of a visually impaired individual and “reads” to him books or other written material. The FingerReader is equipped with a small camera which scans the text, and then a computerized voice “reads” it. For the visually impaired, the FingerReader will open up an entirely new world of texts: restaurant menus, newspapers and magazines, office materials, and millions of books. It also translates text so the user is free to “read” text written in a foreign language. The FingerReader is the latest invention to come out of 3-D printing, a technology that is dramatically changing the face of the world.
The FingerReader has many advantages: It is portable. No matter where the visually impaired person may find himself, he will be able to read. It is empowering. With the FingerReader a visually impaired person will be able to immediately read and understand important documents, such as a permission form at a doctor’s office, or applications at a government agency. It is a vast improvement over the optical character recognition devices that are already available to the visually impaired, because it works in real time.
You may be asking how someone who is visually impaired can possibly point their finger and trace along a line of text. This was one of the challenges for the MIT team, as they had to develop a device that would work for someone who is blind. Therefore, the FingerReader includes a complex system of alerts that tell the user when he is at the beginning and end of the line, when to go to a new line, and also when she has veered off line.
Pattie Maes, director of the Fluid Interfaces research group at MIT, the group developing the prototype says that it took three years to develop the design and materials, write software coding, conduct experiments, etc. There is still more work ahead before the FingerReader will be ready for the masses, including getting it to read cellphones, and determining a pricing structure. This looks to be very good news for the approximately 11.2M Americans with visual impairment, plus millions more throughout the world.