FOR BLIND PEOPLE, IT IS tricky to handle paper currency. U.S. bills are all the same size, so often the only way to tell a $10 bill from a
C-note is to ask someone who can see. But soon, the expression "money talks" may have a new meaning.
Tracy C. Phillips, an 18-year-old senior at Long Beach High in Lido Beach, N.Y., has invented a wallet-size gadget that reads the number in the corner of a bill and then announces the bill's denomination over a little speaker. It makes no difference which side of the bill is up because an infrared beam passes through the paper as it scans the corner. The pattern of ink detected by the beam is matched against those stored in a computer chip, and the result is fed to a voice-synthesis chip.
Earlier this year, her Money Talks electronic wallet won Phillips the No.2 prize in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, a $30,000 scholarship. More recently, the invention earned her nearly $20,000 in prizes at the International Science & Engineering Fair. And that may be just the beginning. Phillips has a patent pending, and she has already negotiated licenses with several companies. Which ones? Phillips demurs: "My lawyer says I shouldn't say."