Smart glasses assist the visually impaired

Share this on social media:

A team of scientists, led by Stephen Hicks and Luis Moreno, at The University of Oxford's Department of Clinical Neurosciences are developing innovative visual prosthetics, electronic aids to support sight for the visually impaired.

The scientists are trialling novel techniques that use the individual's ability to sense changes in contrast. Those registered as blind might still have some degree of residual vision and most can detect changes in contrast. The technology is being built into a pair of electronic glasses, named Smart Specs.

The technology operates using video feeds from head-mounted cameras. The images are processed to detect nearby objects of interest such as people, sign posts, or obstacles to navigate. The detected objects are simplified and displayed back to the user via banks of LEDs attached to a head mounted display. Using a small number of LEDs, the position and class of the object in the immediate vicinity of the person wearing the device can be shown.

The glasses will give visually impaired individuals more independence by helping them identify nearby objects and navigate their surroundings. The team hope that, when put into series production, Smart Specs will cost about the same as modern smartphones.

The scientists began by simulating the experience of a retinal prosthetic to explore ways to improve the degree of useful information in the low-resolution implanted displays. They developed the simulation software using LabView and the NI Vision Development Module from National Instruments.

The team first simulated registered blindness then developed real-time image enhancement, object and face detection, and orientation-independent text reading algorithms. The team ran a proof-of-principle study with the system with healthy controls (under simulated blindness conditions) and with a registered blind man. Both could readily detect and identify previously unseen objects in the environment.

The detected objects were initially presented back to the test subject via a commercial head mounted display (HMD), but an improved custom-made, low-resolution display that incorporates banks of serial interface LEDs was subsequently developed.

There are many possibilities for future iterations of the technology. Coloured LEDs to feed different information to the wearer could be incorporated, so they can differentiate between important objects, such as people and road signs. The proximity of detected objects could also be established by controlling the brightness of the LED array.

The team won National Instruments' 2011 Graphical System Design Achievement Awards. They are currently starting a full clinical trial of the technology.

Recent News

29 July 2020

The Perseverance rover contains 19 cameras, including seven scientific instruments. It will analyse the climate and geology of Mars, looking for signs of past life, as well as monitoring the Martian atmosphere

02 July 2020

Norwegian seafood firm, Lerøy, has installed hyperspectral cameras on processing lines to sort fish. The system is able to measure the amount of blood in white fish, which gives a grade of quality

09 June 2020

Hyperspectral imaging is being used in a research programme at hospitals in Maryland and New York to investigate the prognostic value of skin findings associated with Covid-19 infection

27 May 2020

The composite picture of The Night Watch, made of 528 exposures stitched together digitally, makes it possible to zoom in on individual brushstrokes and even particles of pigment in the painting