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The Descriptive Camera turns your photos into someone else's words

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Matt Richardson has created the Descriptive Camera, a device that captures images and sends them out into the world, where they're rendered into short text descriptions via Amazon's Mechanical Turk API.

The Descriptive Camera (MATT RICHARDSON)
The Descriptive Camera (MATT RICHARDSON)

While most camera innovations are aimed at higher megapixel counts or new image capturing techniques, Matt Richardson is taking an entirely different route with the Descriptive Camera: creating a device that turns your captured imagery into words. Designed as part of a class for New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, the camera consists of a USB webcam, a shutter button, a small thermal printer, and an ethernet connection. When a picture is "snapped," it's sent off to humans for analysis via Amazon's Mechanical Turk API. The human on the other end then creates a written description of the image, which is sent back to the camera. The resulting text is printed with the thermal printer, framed by a Polaroid-style photo outline (an example Richardson provides reads "It's a dark room with a window. The image is quite pixelated."

According to Richardson's post about the project, the Amazon Human Intelligence Task — or HIT — cost is about $1.25 for each image, with results usually taking between three to six minutes to return. An "accomplice mode" actually lets the camera send out links to the image via instant messenger, providing a cheaper option for human interpretation. While the device currently requires external power from a 5-volt source, Richardson does hope to make a version at some point that runs off self-contained batteries and can use wireless data. It's certainly an interesting project, and we won't deny that we're smitten with the idea of taking images out and about in the world, and seeing them perceived through someone else's eyes.