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Thimble Concept Braille-ifies Digital and Analog Text

by Lambert Varias

Mobile Internet is great – you can check your email, read the news, reserve seats at restaurants, and even check for parking spots, all from your smartphone. Not that I enjoy any of that fantastic futuristic stuff here where I live, but it’s nice to know that theoretically, I could. Unfortunately for blind people, they can’t use all of these neat conveniences to their advantage, because much of this information is visual. But that could all change, if University of Washington design students Erik Hedberg and Zack Bennet have their way.

thimble concept brailler scanner converter

Their concept device is called Thimble. It has two primary functions, the first one directly addressing the concern I mentioned above. Thimble connects to smartphones via Bluetooth. It lets users “read” data – for example, news or Twitter – from the phone by converting text to Braille, which the user detects via pulses from the fingertip of the glove. But what makes Thimble such an appealing device is that it also has OCR capabilities, which means it can scan written text – a newspaper for example – and convert it into Braille.

According to their Vimeo page, Hedberg and Bennet are already working on a patent for Thimble, which of course is not the same as actually making the product. But I think it’s a really practical gadget concept, short of an equally portable device that converts digital or analog text to speech.

[via core77]

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Comments (1):

  1. Wil says:

    My mom has been blind all of her life…and I’m not sure that this would be very useful by itself. She already has a plethora of talking devices and screenreaders, and odds are wouldn’t want to check RSS feeds or Twitter away from her desktop. She already has a screenreader connected to said desktop, and a scanner with OCR and text-to-speech software – all of it specifically designed for visually impaired people. She also has a braille reader that converts text on the screen to braille (it uses a flexible rubber strip and pins that raise and lower). Sometimes things are proposed or invented that people without a disability think would help people with a disability, and they wind up not being very practical.

    BUT, this does have some other possible applications. Touch screens are problematic for blind people. One of the things that my dad used to do for my mom was to put bumps on buttons for various gadgets and appliances that did not already have them (a perfect example being kitchen timers and remote controls). A Thimble that could interface with a smartphone and create “bumps” corresponding to keys on the screen as the user passes their finger over it *would* be very useful. And possibly not even just for blind people (imagine being able to touch type on your smartphone screen!).

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