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"Reading-glasses" of the future

Ubiquity, Volume 2005 Issue December | BY M. O. Thirunarayanan 

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Sooner or later, as my aging eyes begin to fail, I will need the help of spectacles or glasses to read books, newspapers and other documents in print as well as in electronic formats. As I pondered the inevitability of having to wear glasses to read, I wondered what it would be like to wear what I call "reading-glasses" instead of reading glasses.

By "reading-glasses" I mean glasses made in the future that can read to people, as opposed to reading glasses that people use to help them read. The technology needed to create such reading-glasses is already here. All that remains is for someone to put the different existing technologies into one device to make my vision of reading-glasses a reality.

When I go to a restaurant, I sometimes have a problem reading the bill that is for some reason or other almost invariably printed using rather small font sizes. The ability to read the small print is further exacerbated by the dim lighting that is prevalent in many restaurants. With my new reading-glasses, this problem will be solved. All I have to do is glance at the bill and the reading-glasses will do the rest, such as magnify the small print, and also read the amount due into my ear, out of earshot of others, including those who happen to be sitting next to me at the same table. When I eat in a restaurant in another country, the reading-glasses will go one step further and translate the bill from any language to any other language of my choice. I can also use the reading-glasses to read the menu in any language and translate the contents of the same to any other language.

Reading books and other printed documents will literally be a snap, because all I will have to do is snap on my reading-glasses and glance at the page in a book, magazine, journal or other document, or look at a computer or other monitor, and the glasses will read the words into my ear. If I wish to read the text myself, I will be able to turn the reading feature off and read the materials the old-fashioned way. Again the translation capability will come in handy when I have the urge to read the great works of another culture written in any of the many languages other than the one or two in which I can read and write.

Using my reading-glasses, driving at night will be as easy as driving during daytime hours. Night vision will be automatically — or if the wearer prefers, manually — activated. In the dark of the night, it will be easier for me, and other drivers who use the glasses, to spot joggers, pedestrians, pets and wild animals, and children who may stray into the path of oncoming traffic, and be in danger of being accidentally hit by cars.

Operated by gaze or blinks of the eye or movements of the eyebrows, or perhaps even by thought waves, the reading-glasses will also protect my eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. It will also adjust itself automatically to compensate for any minor age-related changes in my own natural eyesight.

As I continued thinking of the various capabilities that my reading-glasses will have I imagined myself traveling in a foreign country, driving along its highways and byways. I did not experience any problems due to the fact that the road signs were all in the native language of the country. I did not even notice that the signs were written in a language that I do not speak or read. All I had to do was use my trusted reading-glasses to glance at a road sign and the glasses would automatically read the street names out loud to me in any language that I wished. Of course, I could also always use the online features of the glasses, including its GPS capabilities, to obtain driving directions to desired destinations in the country in which I happen to be traveling at any given point in time.

Since the glasses will have online Internet access, they will also enable me to become a savvy consumer in other countries. My reading-glasses will be able to do some research and tell me all that is known about a cultural artifact that I am interested in purchasing. Where was it made? Who made it? Is it an authentic artifact? What materials go into making it? What is its social and cultural significance to the people of the country? Using such information, I can have a knowledgeable conversation, courtesy of translations by my glasses, with the owner of the shop. If the glasses will be helpful while shopping in another country, just imagine how valuable they will be while shopping for a new car in an automobile dealership in this country.

When I look at the price tag of an item in a shop in a foreign country, my glasses will tell me the price of the item in US dollars or any other currency that I choose. This will help me decide if I should purchase the item. When I glance at the coins or paper bills of a foreign currency, even those that I have never laid my eyes on until that point in time, my glasses will be able to tell me exactly how much the money is worth in terms of the currency that I am currently familiar with, which at this point in time is the US dollar. The glasses will also be able to read the unit of the currency that I am viewing, and will inform me exactly how much it is worth in US dollars and how much more I need to pay for the item that I am thinking of buying. I can also use the Internet features of the reading-glasses to search for the same item in other stores and compare prices. I can use this information to negotiate the price of the item.

The reading-glasses will also be able to translate audio input in any language into any other language. This will come in handy when I talk to people in other countries. When someone talks to me in their native tongue, my reading-glasses will translate the same into a language of my choice. The glasses will also either speak into my ears or present the information as text for me to read. The reading-glasses will also offer me a wide variety of response choices from which I can choose the most appropriate one and respond to the person who spoke to me. Since I will either be repeating what my glasses tell me or reading what the glasses display for my eyes only, I will be able to converse with people in other countries in their own languages.

When it is eventually developed, people will surely find other uses for reading-glasses. I certainly hope that I do not have to wait too long for some company to develop and start marketing such a device.

About the Author

M.O. Thirunarayanan earned his doctoral degree in elementary education from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, in 1990. He is currently a tenured associate professor in the College of Education and a fellow of the Honors College at Florida International University, in Miami, Florida. He has published several peer-reviewed papers and made presentations at many national and international conferences.

COMMENTS

great idea. i would like to ask you a few question about this product.

— Gairen , Mon, 21 Mar 2011 21:10:35 UTC

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