Smart glasses could help visually impaired

Researchers at Oxford University's Department of Clinical Neuroscience, with the assistance of NI LabVIEW, have developed prototype LED glasses to help the visually impaired. The prototype can work for people with some residual vision. “We acquire video feeds from head-mounted cameras, and process the image data to detect nearby objects of interest such as people, sign posts, or obstacles to navigate,” write Oxford researchers Stephen Hicks and Luis Moreno in a case study. “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 we can indicate the position and class of the object in the immediate vicinity of the person wearing the device.”

Adam Brimelow, writing in BBC News Health, describes the case of 70-year-old Lyn Oliver, who has a progressive eye disease, having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her early twenties. She has very limited vision and describes her sight as “smudged and splattered.”

Brimelow describes an outing with Oliver to Oxford's covered market, where, using the prototype, she was able to navigate the busy enclose space with lots of potential obstacles. He quotes her as saying, “I can see you! So I am just standing here talking and not thinking. I'm looking!”

In their case study, Hicks and Moreno began their research by using LabVIEW and the NI Vision Development Module to simulate the experience of a retinal prosthetic. They then experimented with healthy control subjects under simulated blindness conditions and one registered blind man, all of whom were able to detect previously unseen objects in the test environment.

They initially used a commercial head-mounted display (HMD) but soon substituted an improved custom-made version incorporating banks fo serial-interface LEDs, which they integrated into the simulation using the NI USB-8451 I2C/SPI interface. “With this device we rapidly produced a bright visual display from our object recognition software,” they write. “We can address all 128 LEDs in the array at a much faster rate than human perceptual vision.”

They also used the USB-8451 to integrate a gyroscopic sensor to stabilize the acquired images.

The researchers report that they “…have grand plans for future iterations of the technology.”

Brimelow, writing in BBC News Health, quotes a representative of the Royal National Institute of Blind People as saying of the smart glasses the prototype might evolve into, “I think these could be incredibly important. From what we've seen so far they could offer some great independence for blind and partially sighted people to get out and about and carry on normal lives.”

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