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The Finger-Mounted Computer That Reads Aloud When You Point at Words

MIT's FingerReader may finally push braille to extinction, and jumpstart the portable text translator.
February 18, 2014, 6:35pm

As advanced as we like to imagine we are, navigating the modern world still hinges on an understanding of centuries-old technology: printed text. Reading is crux. And, as we move our operations online, we're doing even more, not less, of it. Which means the visually impaired remain at a considerable disadvantage—participating in an online/offline world build on social media networks, blog posts, chatrooms, newspaper articles, medicine instructions, Google map directions, ingredient lists and so on, requires imbibing a lot of text.


Braille, as important a language as it is, can't possibly fill the gap, and audiovisual software is limited and certainly not nimble enough to manage many of the average person's meatspace textual needs. That's where the FingerReader comes in. A prototype designed by researchers at the MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces group, it's a finger-mounted device capable of reading aloud any text you point at while wearing the gadget.

Here's Fluid Interfaces 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, it's a bit slow and and a tad glitchy, but it works. They'll probably have to find a more palatable voice than the brokedown robotron they've currently got, but all in good time I suppose.

Something like the FingerReader might be the final nail in braille's coffin; the language is already being taught less and less as better and more agile audio-visual software has emerged. It may also, as Fluid points out, be a key component of a future text-translating device. A much-improved FingerReader could eventually read aloud all the text in the world, digital or printed, in any language. In the future, we won't even have to read: Robots will do that for us, too.