MIT Undergrads Invent Compact Device That Translates Text to Braille

Brian Smale, Microsoft
Brian Smale, Microsoft

For years, scientists have been using technology to leap across language barriers. We’ve seen earpieces that translate spoken conversations and gloves that decode sign language, but when it comes to translating braille in real time there are few options available. A group of undergraduates from MIT are looking to change that with a device small enough to fit in your hand, Smithsonian reports.

Five of the six engineering students (Charlene Xia, Grace Li, Chen Wang, Jessica Shi, and Chandani Doshi—Tania Yu joined the project later) first collaborated on the project at MakeMIT’s hackathon as team 100% Enthusiasm in February of last year. The team won the contest with a braille-translating tool they called Tactile. Using an external webcam, Tactile converted printed text to braille. It displayed the translation one character at a time by poking combinations of pins through its plastic surface.

The team has come a long way since creating the initial prototype, with the latest version of Tactile featuring a built-in camera. Users place the compact box directly over the text they wish to translate and press a button to snap a picture. From there, Microsoft’s Computer Vision API translates the words and conveys the message in braille in six-character chunks. The entire process, from taking the picture to raising the pins, takes roughly the same amount of time as flipping a page.

Handheld device translates text into braille.
Rendering shows the students' vision for Tactile.
Brian Smale, Microsoft

Tactile recently earned the women the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize and the $10,000 award that comes with it. They plan to use those funds to refine the product and get it commercial-ready within two years. When it hits shelves, the team hopes to sell the device for less than $200—a fraction of the cost of most high-tech braille translators currently on the market. They’ll also be working on ways to make Tactile smaller (right now it’s about the size of three smartphones sandwiched together) and more user-friendly (ideally it will scan an entire page rather than a few lines at a time, and display 18 characters instead of six).

Microsoft is one of the team’s biggest supporters. They’ve been accepted into Microsoft’s #MakeWhatsNext program, an initiative that offers legal assistance to women inventors seeking patents. “There cannot be enough investment in technology that will enable, empower and allow people with disabilities to go and do amazing things,” Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, is quoted as saying on the program's webpage. “I can’t wait to see where this one goes—and I think the patent is a great next step.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

The Pigzbe Wallet Teaches Kids How to Budget and Save Money

Pigzbe
Pigzbe

Fiscal responsibility isn’t the most exciting topic in the world, especially when you’re in elementary school. But, as Fast Company reports, Primo Toys is hoping to make the concept more child-friendly. The company’s new Pigzbe wallet works like a digital piggy bank to teach kids age 6 and older how to earn, budget, and save money by managing the cryptocurrency they receive from their parents.

Pigzbe connects to a smartphone app, which parents can use to set chores and tasks for their kids to complete, such as making their bed or washing the dishes. They can set a schedule for these chores (every Tuesday, for example) as well as monetary rewards in the form of Wollo, a “family-friendly” cryptocurrency developed by Primo Toys.

Tasks will be sent directly to the Pigzbe device, and once they have been completed, kids will receive their hard-earned Wollo tokens. The Pigzbe app helps kids visualize their earnings and how much they’ll need to save to get the items they want. "It’s a design that feels childlike, sure, but in a fun, self-aware way, almost like a Tamagotchi," Fast Company notes.

Although Wollo isn’t technically “real money,” the tokens can be used to purchase toys and other items from Pigzbe’s app. Parents can also order a specialized Visa card that will let them buy items using Wollo. Other family members can also send gifts and allowances to any Pigzbe user, no matter their geographic location.

The goal is to teach kids about financial responsibility at an early age, when they’re just beginning to form habits that will stick with them well into adulthood. “We believe that financially curious children become financially literate adults, and we designed Pigzbe to achieve just that,” Primo Toys, the maker of the Pigzbe wallet, writes in its Kickstarter campaign. The product has already exceeded its $50,000 fundraising goal, with more than 550 backers on board.

Backers who pledge $79 or more before the campaign ends on January 25, 2019 will receive the Pigzbe wallet at a 40 percent discount.

[h/t Fast Company]

Aquarium Points Out Anatomical Error in Apple's Squid Emoji

iStock.com
iStock.com

When an inaccurate image makes it into Apple's emoji keyboard, the backlash is usually swift. But the squid emoji had been around for more than two years before the Monterey Bay Aquarium pointed out a major anatomical error on Twitter. As The Verge reports, the emoji depicts a squid with a siphon on its face—not on the back of its head, where it should be.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium dragged Apple for the misstep on Wednesday, December 5. "Not even squidding the siphon should be behind the head," the aquarium tweeted, "rn it just looks like a weirdo nose."

A squid's siphon serves some vital purposes. It pumps water over the gills, allowing it to breathe, and it blasts water away when the squid needs to propel through the sea. It's also the orifice out of which waste is expelled, making its placement right between the eyes in the emoji version especially unfortunate.

Emojis have incited outrage from marine biology experts in the past. When the Unicode Consortium released an early design of its lobster emoji earlier this year, people were quick to point out that it was missing a set of legs. Luckily the situation was rectified in time for the emoji's official release.

Apple has been known to revise designs to appease the public, but getting the squid's siphon moved to the other side of its head may be a long shot: Until the most recent backlash, the emoji had existed controversy-free since 2016.

[h/t The Verge]

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