Photo by Stefan Insam
Forget X-ray specs; a pair of lightweight, inexpensive glasses could soon help the visually impaired “see,” according to scientists at Oxford University. Equipped with technology found in smartphones and game consoles (including video cameras, position detectors, and face-recognition software), the high-tech eyewear will make it easy for the blind navigate streets, negotiate traffic, even “read” newspaper headlines. “We want to be able to enhance vision in those who’ve lost it or who have little left or almost none,” says Stephen Hicks, a researcher at the department of clinical neurology. “The glasses should allow people to be more independent.”
Illustration by the Daily Mail
I SEE YOU
The glasses are designed for common types of visual impairment, including age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Roughly 30 percent of people over 75 in the United Kingdom show early signs of the first, and 7 percent have more advanced forms, estimates the National Health Services. “The types of poor vision we are talking about are where you might be able to see your own hand moving in front of you, but you can’t define the fingers,” Hicks says.
A smartphone-like device processes information about the objects in view, while embedded LEDs flash the data as colored dots.
Hicks’s prototype sports video cameras on each corner to capture what the wearer is looking at. A smartphone-like device processes information about the objects or people in view, while LED-embedded lenses flash that data as colored dots. “You could have different colors for people, or important objects, and brightness could tell you how near things were,” Hicks says.
Because eye contact is important in social relationships, the see-through display means other people can see you, he adds. It may take some practice before the benefits become apparent, but the glasses can be tailored to individuals, their vision, and needs. The research is still in its salad days, but Hicks believes that the glasses can be realized for around £500 ($800). A seeing-eye dog, in comparison, costs 50 to 60 times as much to train, he says.
With the growing sophistication of optical character recognition, Hicks says it won’t be long before the device distinguishes headlines from video and reads them back to the wearer via earphones. “A whole stream of such ideas and uses are possible,” he says. “There are barcode readers in some mobile phones that download the prices of products; such barcode and price-tag readers could also be useful additions to the glasses.”