While books printed in Braille have afforded blind and visually impaired people with the ability to “read, it has many limitations regarding what is readable in a world filled with forms and other important paperwork, which up until now had either had to be read to them by a sighted person, or first translated into the coded system of raised dots that form words. However, a team at MIT, known as the Fluid Interface research group is currently working on new technology involving an audio reading device equipped with a small camera that scans texts and then translates it aloud, making reading “as easy as pointing a finger.”
According to the project’s founder and lead research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Pattie Maes, the device is worn on the index finger. As the person scans the page, a synthesized voice quickly reads the words out loud, whether it is a contract, restaurant menu, forms in a doctor’s office, instruction manual, personal correspondence, or any other material any place, at anytime in “real time.” The process is accomplished through special software that “tracks the movement of the finger, identifies words and then processes the information quickly. It also is equipped with vibrator motors that alert the reader when he/she has strayed from the script,” added Roy Shilkrot, who has been developing the device with the use of a 3-D printer at the MIT lab for the past three years.
Although he states that there is still a lot of work to be done before the Finger Reader is ready for the marketplace, its developers expect it to be readily available at affordable prices, However, they declined to estimate what that cost might be. In the meantime, Shilkrot and Maes emphasized that their device was not “meant to replace Braille, but to give visually handicapped people access to texts not available in it.”