Science briefs: Audio device made for finger reads to blind in real time

  • July 12, 2014 - 3:00 PM

device reads to blind in real time

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them affordable and immediate access to printed words.

The so-called FingerReader, a prototype produced by a 3-D printer, fits like a ring on the user’s finger, equipped with a small camera that scans text. A synthesized voice reads words aloud, quickly translating books, restaurant menus and other needed materials for daily living, especially away from home or office.

Reading is as easy as pointing the finger at text. Special software tracks the finger movement, identifies words and processes the information. The device has vibration motors that alert readers when they stray from the script, said Roy Shilkrot, who is developing the device at the MIT Media Lab.

For Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born blind, the promise of the FingerReader is its portability and offer of real-time functionality at school, a doctor’s office and restaurants. “Everywhere we go, for folks who are sighted, there are things that inform us about the products that we are about to interact with. I wanna be able to interact with those same products, regardless of how I have to do it,” he said.

Developing the gizmo has taken three years of software coding, experimenting with designs and working on feedback from visually impaired people. Much work remains before it is ready for the market, Shilkrot said, but developers believe they will be able to affordably market the device.

education may be hard on the eyes

Can too much studying ruin your eyesight? A German study has found that the more education a person has, the greater the likelihood that he will be nearsighted.

The researchers did examinations on 4,685 people ages 35 to 74. About 38 percent were nearsighted. But of those who graduated after 13 years in the three-tiered German secondary school system, about 60.3 percent were nearsighted, compared with 41.6 percent of those who graduated after 10 years, 27.2 percent of those who graduated after nine years and 26.9 percent of those who never graduated. The percentage of myopic people was also higher among university graduates than among graduates of vocational schools or those who had no professional training.

coastal winds grow stronger

Summer winds are intensifying along the west coasts of North and South America and southern Africa and climate change is a likely cause, a study says.

The winds, which blow parallel to the shore and draw cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean to the surface in a process known as coastal upwelling, have increased over the past 60 years in three out of five regions of the world, said an analysis published in the journal Science. Stronger winds have the potential to be beneficial by bringing a surge of nutrients and boosting populations of plankton, fish and other species. But they could also harm marine life by causing turbulence, disrupting feeding, worsening ocean acidification and lowering oxygen levels, the study says.

The shift could already be having effects on some of the world’s most productive marine fisheries and ecosystems off California, Peru and South Africa. Researchers can’t say for sure that climate change is to blame, but they said finding a pattern that was consistent across several parts of the planet gives a strong indication it is a factor.

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