Portable Device Reads Any Text Aloud

K-NFB, a portable device that scans any available text and reads it back to visually impaired people, will be on sale in the UK by July of 2006. The device was developed by Ray Kurzweil.

The device takes a few seconds to process the image; when processing is done, it reads the text aloud. The device comes with a set of earbuds, although it is also equipped with Bluetooth to make use of other devices.

The K-NFB will cost approximately ?2,625 (that's about US$4,800), which makes it a bit pricey. However, the device is far less costly than one of Kurzweil's earlier efforts, a similar device created in 1981. The "Reading Machine" was the size of a washing machine and cost more than $50,000.

This is yet another area in which science fiction writers were first to describe a demand—and a solution. In his 1934 story The Lost Language, writer David H. Keller describes a device that is actually able to make speech from printed text—the sound-transposing machine:

In a month's time, tired people will be placing pages of a book in their machine and hear it read to them..."

Then an entire page of the lad's typing was run through the sound-transposing machine, purposely slowed so that the sounds could be differentiated.
(Read more about the sound-transposing machine)

If you are interested in science-fictional translation devices, check out the babelfish from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and of course George Orwell's Speakwrite, which does the opposite trick - speech-to-text. Read a bit more about Reading 'to go' for blind people; also, check out Ray Kurzweil's website.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)