At Your Fingertips: New Device Translates Text to Braille
The Thimble allows blind and visually impaired people to hear those competing sounds, allowing them to join the multitasking revolution that has come to define modern life.
CREDIT: Erik Hedberg and Zack Bennet
If you're reading these words right now, then it's likely that you don't need the device covered below. But roughly 25 million blind and visually impaired Americans might. The concept, called the Thimble, is a sleek finger sheath outfitted with high-tech accessories that can scan written words and convert them into electronic pulses of Braille on the fingertip.
Current solutions convert text into audio, but when the blind use them, either with speakers or a headphone, they tend to block out competing sounds that could be relevant, such as cars honking or friends speakingsounds we take for granted.
Created by Erik Hedberg and Zack Bennet, seniors at the University of Washington's industrial design program, the Thimble allows blind and visually impaired people to hear those competing sounds, allowing them to join the multitasking revolution that has come to define modern life.
Blind people could be walking down the street getting the news through their fingertip while still hearing what's going on around them, Hedberg told InnovationNewsDaily.
A tiny camera on the fingertip scans text and sends the image to a smartphone, which houses the real brains of the operation. The image runs through an optical character recognition engine and another algorithm that turns the information back into tactile text. Once decoded, the data bounces back down to an electrotractile array in the fingertip where tiny pulses of electricity simulate the bumps and grooves of Braille.
The grid on the fingertip imprints three Braille letters at a time. For the blind, the sensation would be like scrolling slowly over the letters. The words could come from scanned images, but also from audiobooks, news feeds, or e-mails accessed from smartphones.
Although the Thimble is still in the design phase, each component of the device is already on the market in one form or another, such as smartphone software that can translate written text into speech.
One potential problem is that only 10 percent of the blind in America know how to read Braille, partly because so many people lose their sight late in life. But Hedberg thinks of this as an opportunity. One of the huge applications we see with the concept is the teaching aspect, he says.
The Thimble also has the potential to encourage literacy. One application would allow users to listen to audiobooks while following along in Braille.
Right now, Hedberg and Bennet are filing a patent for the Thimble while exploring options for getting the device on the market.