Hack Your Brain: Bionic Reading — Panacea Or Placebo?

In the Star Trek episode Space Seed, [Khan] famously said, “Improve a mechanical device, and you may double productivity. But improve man, you gain a thousandfold.” Most of our hacks center on the mechanical or electromechanical kind, but we do have an interest in safely improving ourselves. The problem is that most of us don’t want to mess with our DNA or have surgery, so it sort of limits our options.

We are always interested in less invasive hacks, so we certainly took note of Bionic Reading. However, a recent paper claims to debunk the claims of benefits. The company promoting the technology claims a Swiss University study showed that while the results were not clear, “the majority had a positive effect.” They also claim, anecdotally, that the technique can help those with dyslexia. What’s the truth? We don’t know, but it is an interesting discussion to follow.

If you haven’t seen it before, Bionic Reading — which, by the way, may not be free to use — is a way of using a dark font to emphasize certain key parts of words. For example, you can read this article using Bionic Reading. [Daniel Doyon] analyzed reading by 2,074 testers and found that participants actually read slower when using the Bionic Reading technique.

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Low-Vision Reading Through A Camera’s Eye

Borescope cameras are great inspection tools. They’re flexible, they magnify on a variable scale, and they come with their own lighting. Oh, and they’re pretty cheap, too. Because of all this, these tiny cameras can serve a number of purposes. Doctors put them down your cake hole to look for ulcers and polyps, and mechanics probe pistons with them to check for buildup. [agulesin] used one to make a reading aid for his mom.

Mom suffers from macular degeneration, and can’t read print smaller than 1″ (2.5cm). This condition can cause issues ranging from blurred vision to complete loss of vision in the center of the visual field. Standard handheld magnifiers can work fairly well depending on a person’s condition, but they only provide a fixed magnification level and most offer no lighting.

[Agulesin] had the idea to make a reading magnifier by feeding video from a downward-facing borescope camera to an old netbook. The camera is mounted in a plywood arm that’s fixed to a bi-level platform made from scrap MDF. It’s a simple idea that’s well executed—just project flat, printed material on to a vertical screen. There’s nothing for the user to hold or mount, and no risk of neck strain from looking down over the material.

With any simple project comes limitations. The camera is fixed in place. This rig built to view sheets of A4 paper (between letter and legal size)  that are moved around by the user, and it can only handle a stack of so many sheets. If [agulesin]’s mom tried to read a thick novel this way, the camera would likely not focus.  Even so, it’s a great piece of assistive tech for people with low vision.