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"Descriptive Camera" prints a word picture of your photos


April 30, 2012

The "Descriptive Camera" prints a crowdsourced description of the photo it takes instead of the image itself

The "Descriptive Camera" prints a crowdsourced description of the photo it takes instead of the image itself

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Most cameras today have settings that log the time, date, camera settings, and even location of any photos taken. Unfortunately though, no camera out there can automatically note what a picture actually shows ... until now, that is. Matt Richardson, a student in the Computational Cameras class at New York University‘s Interactive Telecommunications Program, recently created a quirky device called the "Descriptive Camera," which works like a regular camera, but instead of displaying images, it prints out a description of the photo's content in plain English.

Like any other camera, the Descriptive Camera takes photos when someone presses the shutter while pointing it at a subject. It's what happens after that button is pressed though that makes this camera unique. The recorded image is sent off to be viewed by a number of people on the internet, who create a crowdsourced description of the photo's content. This process typically takes around three to six minutes and is indicated by a yellow light labeled "Developing" on the camera lighting up. Once the camera receives the final description, a thermal printer dispenses it like a receipt from the grocer. This way, a picture of a set of drawers and a lamp can turn into a passage saying, "Looks like a cupboard which is ugly and old having name plates on it with a study lamp attached to it."

Richardson created a the camera as a project for New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. The prototype is comprised of a USB webcam and thermal printer attached to a BeagleBone Linux board, which controls the camera's functions and connects to the internet through an ethernet cable. "Developing" the description of an image requires it to be sent through Amazon's Mechanical Turk API, which submits the task to human workers on the internet, who come up with a short summary for US$1.25 each. The Mechanical Turk API also offers a ranking and approval system to encourage accurate results.

It may not be incredibly useful to have a camera that records text-only versions of pictures, but technology like this could certainly lead to better methods for automatically logging and sorting images. In the future, Richardson hopes to improve on the prototype by adding a battery and wireless capabilities to make it feel more like a regular digital camera.

Source: Matt Richardson

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things. All articles by Jonathan Fincher

It should print in braille as well.


Would make more sense if it printed in Braille.

Fairly Reasoner

Actually, it's a tool for linguistically challenged novelists, who aspire to describing settings in the manner their 19th century predecessors did....



A picture is worth a thousand words. It's true but each person that sees the picture will attribute their own thousand words to it.

Agree with the others, worthless as is, make it print braille and you've got something.


Converting a digital text file to Braille is easy, so it is already potentially useful for blind people. Also, for the non-blind, it could make searching for photos much easier.

Edgar Walkowsky

thats a terrible idea. Why would you get someone to describe to you what you already see. this isnt imaginative either...its just weird

James Steyn
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