Thanks to Jeanean for pointing out the Kurzweil – National Federation for the Blind Reader.
This device is a combination camera, scanner, and text reader.
(Note: the photo is also a link to information about the reader; link updated on 4/19/08.)
“Hold the Reader’s camera over print — a restaurant menu, directions, or a memo from tyour boss — and snap a picture. In seconds you can hear the contents of the printed document in clear synthetic speech.”
Ray Kurzweil has been an innovator in the area of optical recognition, from omni-font character recognition (no need for a specialized font like that used at the bottom of bank checks) to virtual reality.
Seeing the reader in action to me is like dropping in on Gutenberg’s workshop a year or so after he’d gotten the place running. The technology works so well given its state of development that you immediately start wondering “How long until it can…?” or “Why can’t it…?”
(Updated 4/19/08) The K-NBF site includes links to two videos featuring the reader.