Researchers from the Fluid Interface Group at the MIT Media Lab have developed a finger-worn device which scans text and reads it out loud.

FingerReader: a ring that scans text and reads it aloud


In world where people increasingly read and obtain information from digital devices such as Kindle e-readers and tablets, those with poor sight find themselves at a severe disadvantage. However a new tool which can read any text out loud could soon enable visually impaired people to access a huge amount of information at their fingertips, without the need for a braille text. The device, called FingerReader, is designed to replace existing audio-visual software, which can be restrictive and also inaccurate. The device has been developed by the Fluid Interface Group at the MIT Media Lab (Massachussetts Institute of Technology research lab) as part of a wider project to close the gap between the digital world and the real world. It addresses the needs both of people with poor sight who need help to read a printed text and those who want to have a text translated to help them learn a language.

Finger-worn reading aid with translation capability

The FingerReader prototype has an integrated camera that enables the user to scan lines of text with his/her finger and receive audio feedback of the content. With the ring on your index finger you simply follow the lines of text with the finger, in the same way as you might do when reading ordinarily. A camera fixed on the ring, combined with an algoythm allow to detect the words. The voice you hear reading the scanned words aloud is similar to the one we often associate with Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist and cosmologist. The ring also provides haptic feedback, vibrating to warn the wearer when s/he moves off the line of the text or jumps a line. As well as simply reading a text back to you, this wearable device can also translate the words into another language and the MIT researchers envisage that the device could help people to learn foreign languages.

Creating intuitive educational devices

The FingerReader has been developed in the wake of the MIT Media Lab’s first attempt at designing an intuitive device. In 2012, the Lab came up with the EyeRing,  also a finger-worn device, which used a camera connected via Bluetooth to enable transfer of text to a smartphone or tablet screen so that the reader could read it there. The MIT researchers had a dual aim in designing the EyeRing: not only to help visually impaired people to read signs and labels but also to help children learn to read. The current FingerReader project is still at the research prototype stage and some aspects still need to be improved. For example, the reading speed is definitely sub-optimal and the developers might also think about adding a headset so as to reduce ambient noise and enhance sound quality. 

By Manon Garnier