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.

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]

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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What Movie Do You Want to Watch? This Website Analyzes Film Critic Reviews to Help You Choose

She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
Rowan Jordan/iStock via Getty Images

Much like sommeliers can detect subtle notes of who-knows-what in a sip of wine, film critics are fantastic at identifying influences and drawing parallels between movies. Cinetrii is a handy website that crowdsources all that movie knowledge to help you find your next favorite film.

Basically, you enter the name of a movie you enjoyed in the search bar, and the site will show you a node graph with film recommendations splintering off the search query. Click on one, and you’ll see a quote from a critic (or critics) who referenced the films together. This way, you get a list of recommendations based on different aspects of the movie, and you get to decide for yourself what you’d like to see more of.

If, for example, you were blown away by the special effects in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, you might like Doctor Strange; according to Variety, it boasts “a staggering visual effects innovation, in which the building-bending seen in Christopher Nolan’s Inception is taken to an extreme that would blow even M.C. Escher’s mind.” If what the Chicago Tribune calls an “elegant brain-bender” quality appealed to you more, The Matrix might be a perfect fit.

Films above your search query were released before the movie you typed in, while films below came out after it. The shorter the line, the more closely the films are related, as calculated by the website’s algorithm. And, as Lifehacker points out, that algorithm doesn’t give any special treatment to massive Hollywood blockbusters, so Cinetrii is an especially great way to find hidden gems. Because it shows you the critics' actual quotes, you’re not left to wonder why a certain film landed on the recommendations list—which can’t always be said for “Watch next” lists on streaming services.

You can explore Cinetrii here.

[h/t Lifehacker]