Smart glasses to help visually impaired see

BRITISH-DESIGNED “smart glasses” that provide a new set of eyes for the visually impaired are being tested in public for the first time.

The devices, which use a pair of video cameras to enhance residual vision, have the potential to transform the lives of thousands of registered blind people in the UK.

By helping to make the most of existing sight and delivering an all-important sense of depth, they can prevent users colliding with objects such as lamp posts or tripping over kerbs and steps.

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The glasses are being trialled by 30 visually impaired volunteers at testing venues in Oxford and Cambridge, where they will navigate obstacle courses.

At the same time a handful of users are giving the devices a “real life” airing in public, mingling with shoppers and tourists in the centre of Oxford.

Dr Stephen Hicks, of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford University, who led development of the glasses, said: “The idea of the smart glasses is to give people with poor vision an aid that boosts their awareness of what’s around them – allowing greater freedom, independence and confidence to get about, and a much improved quality of life.

“We eventually want to have a product that will look like a regular pair of glasses and cost no more than a few hundred pounds – about the same as a smart phone.”

The device consists of a pair of video cameras mounted in a headset, a pocket-sized computer processor, and software that projects images of close-by objects onto displays in the see-through eye pieces.

The software interprets nearby surroundings to make important objects such as kerbs, tables, chairs or groups of people stand out more clearly.

In some cases, details such as facial features can become easier to see, making social interaction more natural. The glasses also work well in low light and can be used to overcome night blindness.

Of the more than 300,000 severely sight impaired people in the UK, it is believed about a third could benefit from the technology.