Teaching Your Finger to Read

MIT is developing a ring that might end up transforming the lives of the visually impaired.

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

The brains over at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab are working on a wearable device that helps visually impaired people read printed text. The FingerReader, not to be confused with the comparatively less high-tech palm reader whom your weird aunt swears by, is a ring with a built-in camera that the user fits on his or her index finger. When the user points at a surface with text, the camera picks up the words, which the device then reads out loud.

FingerReader could help the visually impaired read everything from books to restaurant menus to important forms at doctor’s offices, and thus increase a visually impaired person’s self-sufficiency. The device’s software is intuitive enough to detect when a user strays away from a line of text, vibrating to both notify the wearer to straighten their finger’s path as well as when they reach the beginning and end of a line.

Although most of the MIT Media Lab’s efforts have focused on serving the visually impaired, there are a slew of other applications for the FingerReader. The device could be used for pronouncing words in another language or even translating text from one language into another, which could be incredibly helpful for tourists navigating a foreign country. Young children could use the FingerReader as they learn how to read, similarly to how a schoolteacher points to words in a book while reading out loud.

The FingerReader joins the expanding ranks of wearable technology seeking to improve a user’s health and wellness. Earlier this year, Google unveiled a contact lens that would help diabetics monitor their blood sugar levels, while the list of wristbands and watches that allow fitness nuts to track their heart rates, daily steps, and other assorted metrics only continues to grow. This also marks the rise of new technologies and apps being developed to assist the visually impaired, like this Braille e-reader screen.

According to the World Health Organization, there are about 285 million people who classify as visually impaired–39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. In America alone, about 2.8 percent of the population is afflicted with a visual impairment. Because the FingerReader is still in prototype stages, with the first one being produced by a 3-D printer, it will still be some time before the device is ready for market. It’s unclear whose voice the text will be read in, but let’s hope it’s someone a little more lively than our dear old friend Siri. Morgan Freeman, perhaps?

AFP News Agency / Twitter

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