Researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory have built a prototype of a finger-mounted device with a built-in camera that converts written text into audio for visually impaired users. The device provides feedback — either tactile or audible — that guides the user’s finger along a line of text, and the system generates the corresponding audio in real time.
“You really need to have a tight coupling between what the person hears and where the fingertip is,” says Roy Shilkrot, an MIT graduate student in media arts and sciences and, together with Media Lab postdoc Jochen Huber, lead author on a new paper describing the device. “For visually impaired users, this is a translation. It’s something that translates whatever the finger is ‘seeing’ to audio. They really need a fast, real-time feedback to maintain this connection. If it’s broken, it breaks the illusion.”
Huber will present the paper at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interface conference in April. His and Shilkrot’s co-authors are Pattie Maes, the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Professor in Media Arts and Sciences at MIT; Suranga Nanayakkara, an assistant professor of engineering product development at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, who was a postdoc and later a visiting professor in Maes’ lab; and Meng Ee Wong of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
The paper also reports the results of a usability study conducted with vision-impaired volunteers, in which the researchers tested several variations of their device. One included two haptic motors, one on top of the finger and the other beneath it. The vibration of the motors indicated whether the subject should raise or lower the tracking finger.
Another version, without the motors, instead used audio feedback: a musical tone that increased in volume if the user’s finger began to drift away from the line of text. The researchers also tested the motors and musical tone in conjunction. There was no consensus among the subjects, however, on which types of feedback were most useful. So in ongoing work, the researchers are concentrating on audio feedback, since it allows for a smaller, lighter-weight sensor.
Source: Larry Hardesty | MIT News Office
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