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MIT finger device reads to the blind in real time

Published: Thursday, July 10, 2014 11:00 a.m. CST

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them affordable and immediate access to printed words.

The so-called FingerReader, a prototype produced by a 3-D printer, fits like a ring on the user’s finger, equipped with a small camera that scans text. A synthesized voice reads words aloud, quickly translating books, restaurant menus and other needed materials for daily living, especially away from home or office.

For Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born blind, the promise of the FingerReader is its portability and offer of real-time functionality at school, a doctor’s office and restaurants.

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

Reading is as easy as pointing the finger at text. Special software tracks the finger movement, identifies words and processes the information. The device has vibration motors that alert readers when they stray from the script, said Roy Shilkrot, who is developing the device at the MIT Media Lab.

Developers had to overcome unusual challenges to help people with visual impairments move their reading fingers along a straight line of printed text that they could not see. Users also had to be alerted at the beginning and end of the reading material.

The FingerReader can read papers, books, magazines, newspapers, computer screens and other devices, but it has problems with text on a touch screen, said Shilkrot.

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

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