By Karyn Narramore
Fluid Interfaces, the media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT), recently unveiled its latest masterpiece, the FingerReader. The FingerReader is a 3-D printed ring with a mounted camera that scans text and reads it aloud to the wearer. Special software scans the text and gives both audio and haptic feedback, letting the wearer know things like where the line begins and ends or to move to a new line. The algorithm can also detect and give feedback when the user moves away from the baseline of the text. The FingerReader is a device that could prove to be useful not only as a tool for the visually impaired but also for second-language learners, people with dyslexia or other language disorders, young children, victims of brain trauma, and tourists.
Fluid Interfaces as a group defines its purpose fairly simply: They want to create wearable interfaces that augment the human senses and capabilities, interfaces that can give the user a more natural experience with fewer distractions. The FingerReader is still just a prototype and has not been tested extensively, but its aspirations seem fairly in line with Fluid Interfaces’ vision. Still in development, the FingerReader’s language translation abilities have not been implemented, but eventually this, along with the ability to connect to a smartphone or mobile device, is definitely in the game plan. According to Roy Shilkrot of Fluid Interfaces, the current market for the reader is about 3%, which is the percentage of the population that is visually impaired. Because the device is still in development, Shilkrot declined to speculate on pricing, but did say that the team is relatively confident that they will be able to sell the reader at an affordable price. Additionally, Shilkrot says that the group may make the decision not to commercialize the product themselves. If this ends up being the case, Fluid Interfaces will open-source the project so that others can continue to improve the technology or repurpose it for other uses. See the FingerReader in action here.
When asked what kind of competition the FingerReader faces from existing applications and how the reader is different from them, Shilkrot is quick to point out that the project is still an academic one at this point: “We are not in competition with any of the alternative commercial products.” The Fluid Interfaces website helpfully provides a list of alternative applications, complete with links. Their provided list is as follows:
Text Detective: http://blindsight.com/textdetective/
kNFB Reader: http://www.knfbreader.com/
AbiSee ROL: http://www.abisee.com/products/eyepalrolgeneral.
EyeNote (from the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing): http://www.eyenote.gov/
OrCam Glasses: http://www.orcam.com/
The vOICe Seeing with sound: http://www.seeingwithsound.com/