This DIY Camera Takes Short Stories, Not Pictures

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There's an old saying that a picture says a thousand words, but one clever modder took that saying to the next level by making it literal. Meet Descriptive Camera, a DIY camera capable of capturing a scene with text rather than a photo.

Think of your typical digital camera--once you press the shutter, it will give you an image plus a small amount of metadata, like the camera's settings, the time, and perhaps where you took the photo. Descriptive Camera by Matt Richardson also uses metadata, but it looks at the actual content of the image to describe the scene textually instead of visually.

Matt made the camera as a way of finding better methods to catalog and search images once they are filed. Now, you will probably be wondering how the heck a camera can translate an image into text and the technology behind it, but actually, most of the tricky work is done by humans.

Wait, what?

Using Amazon Mechanical Turk, every time a photo is taken by the DIY camera, some coding will send the image data to a willing worker, who looks at the photo and writes up a description of what is happening in the frame. The text is then sent back in six minutes or less and printed out on a thermal printer, polaroid style. While the image-to-text transformation is processing, an amber LED light will flash above the camera.

The camera itself uses a USB webcam, the embedded Linux platform BeagleBone, and a shutter button. Python scripts and Matt's own mrBBIO module make sure everything communicates together once the shutter is pressed--from the LED status lights to submitting the image to Mechanical Turk and warming up the printer.

Although it uses lowly humans to decipher the pixels of an image, the homemade camera itself is pretty cool. The only downsides right now is that it doesn't wirelessly connect to the internet (it uses ethernet), nor run off batteries, so the images you want text for are probably going to be quite limited to rooms within your house or office.

Descriptive Camera would be great for writing captions underneath photos taken with a normal camera, although some of the descriptions that come back are slightly vague or unimaginative (but funny!), depending who writes them. For instance, one of Matt's images was just "...a dark room with a window. The image is quite pixelated."

Not a bad project for a bit of fun. Visit Matt's website for tutorial help, more text examples and more images of the camera and printer setup.

[Matt Richarson via Hack A Day]

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