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]

Stuck in a Never-Ending Group Chat? Here's How to Stop It

grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

The more contacts on your phone, the more likely you will be periodically pulled into the dreaded group chat—a meandering, pestering chain of communication on apps like Facebook or WhatsApp that keeps your cell in a constant state of alert. While some group chats start out informative, they can quickly devolve in utter banality. (One warning sign: a funny nickname for the chat.) How can one free themselves from this chorus and get on with their lives?

David Nield at Gizmodo recently broke down the steps you can take to pull yourself free, though it depends on which chat app you’re using. If it’s WhatsApp, for example, you can go to Settings, Account, Privacy, Groups, and then set who can add you to a group chat. That way, only people in your inner circle can loop you in. If someone who isn't on your approved list adds you to a chat, you'll get a direct message inviting you to join, which you can accept or ignore. If you’re already in group chat hell, WhatsApp will allow you to mute notifications by tapping on the Menu button and selecting Mute Notifications.

Facebook Messenger doesn’t allow you to pre-emptively opt out, but you can exit existing group chats by tapping “i” inside the thread and selecting “Leave Group” in Android or tapping the chat thread and clicking “Leave Group” in iOS.

The same is true of Apple’s iMessenger—you can’t insulate yourself from chats. Once it starts, though, you can leave by tapping the top of the conversation, selecting “i,” and selecting either Hide Alerts (which mutes the chat) or Leave This Conversation. If people in the chat are using SMS, the messages will still come through, however. They have to be either muted or removed from your phone and life entirely.

For tips on how to deal with group chat pain on Twitter and other platforms, head over to Gizmodo.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Veterans Can Now Access Their Health Records Through Apple’s Health App

SeventyFour/iStock via Getty Images
SeventyFour/iStock via Getty Images

Apple’s iOS Health app is great for more than just checking how many steps you took during a lengthy walk in the park—it also stores health records from Johns Hopkins, Quest Diagnostics, Allscripts, and more than 400 other healthcare organizations.

Now, Fortune reports that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has joined that list, making it easier than ever for military veterans who receive healthcare through the Veterans Health Administration to access all of their health records, including medications, immunizations, lab results, and other information. In the press release, Apple explains that the app will automatically update the records, so all veterans need to do is log into their providers’s patient portals through the Health app for a “single, integrated snapshot of their health profile whenever they want, quickly, and privately.”

apple VA health app screenshot
Apple

Though the official announcement coincides nicely with Veterans Day on Monday, the change itself has been in the works for several months—the VA released the new feature to certain patients over the summer.

According to its website, the Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated healthcare system in the country, servicing more than 9 million patients across 1255 healthcare facilities. With such an expansive network, any successful attempt to streamline processes and improve the flow of information—especially when it comes to sensitive, personal data—has the potential to be a major game-changer for veterans.

apple VA health app screenshot
Apple

“Helping veterans gain a better understanding of their health is our chance to show our gratitude for their service,” Apple COO Jeff Williams said in the press release. “By working with the VA to offer Health Records on iPhone, we hope to help those who served have greater peace of mind that their healthcare is in good hands.”

Wondering what you can do to help veterans? Here are 11 honorable ideas.

[h/t Fortune]

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