Smart glasses for people with poor vision being tested in Oxford

Jun 17, 2014
Credit: Oxford University

Oxford University researchers are measuring how their smart glasses can help people with limited vision navigate and avoid walking into obstacles.

'The idea of the smart glasses is to give people with 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,' says Dr Stephen Hicks of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford, who is leading the development of the glasses.

The smart glasses consist of a video camera mounted on the frame of the glasses; a computer processing unit that is small enough to fit in a pocket; and software that provides images of objects close-by to the see-through displays in the eyepieces of the glasses.

The transparent electronic displays, where the glasses' lenses would be, give a simple image of nearby people and obstacles. The camera with specially designed software interprets the nearby surroundings allowing people to see important things much more distinctly than before, such as kerbs, tables and chairs, or groups of people.

The glasses don't replace lost vision but assist with spatial awareness. Anyone using the glasses looks through them to make the most of their existing sight, with additional images appearing in their line of sight to give extra information about who or what is in front of them.

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

Lyn Oliver, 70, of Faringdon in Oxfordshire has a , Jess, to help her get around. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her early 20s, an eye disease which gradually leads to loss of vision and blindness. Lyn has tried out the smart glasses and describes how they could help when out with her guide dog: 'If Jess stops, the glasses can tell me if she's stopped because there's a kerb, there's something on the floor or it's roadworks, and it'll give me a sense of which way she may go around the obstacle.'

Lyn relates how on one occasion, when she was without a guide dog for six months last year and just using a cane, she walked into a car. 'Some people insist on parking on the pavement, then swear at you because you've walked into their precious car. There was just too much traffic noise for me to detect it there. With the glasses on, I would have seen the car.'

Dr Hicks' team has set up testing venues in Oxford and Cambridge where they can control the lighting and introduce obstacles to avoid. Participants are tracked as they navigate through obstacle courses, with and without smart glasses. The study will involve 30 volunteers with poor vision.

The group is also beginning to see how people respond with the glasses in indoor spaces like shopping centres.

Iain Cairns, 43, a copywriter for a marketing agency in London, tried out the smart glasses in Oxford's Covered Market. Iain was diagnosed with the inherited eye condition choroideremia at around the age of 12. On having the glasses fitted, Iain reacted: 'Ooh, I can … I can see your face. It's, er, like suddenly going into … Like the Lord of the Rings when he puts the ring on. And sees things in a new way … That tablecloth is looking lovely. It's getting the pattern of the tablecloth … It's like I've wandered into an 80s pop video. Everyone has cool A-ha drawings round them. It's now much more of a scene with several people in.'

Iain says he can see the potential of the : 'The glasses could really help with a lot of day-to-day challenges I'm facing in getting around or walking down the street. I do still have some sight. What is great about these glasses is that you can see through them and make the most of the vision you've got. They add to what you see with extra information.'

The Oxford University researchers carried out preliminary tests last year of an earlier prototype with 20 volunteers having a range of eye conditions and levels of vision. They found that people could quickly get used to the glasses, and it was the third of people with the lowest vision that really found benefits in using the glasses to get around and avoid obstacles. There are roughly 100,000 people in the UK alone with this low level of vision and who could potentially benefit.

The research and development of the glasses is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The trials are being carried out with the support of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

The group has been awarded further funding from the Royal Society to look at introducing more features into the glasses, such as face, object or text recognition. An audio prompt via an earphone would give people more information about who or what they are seeing.

'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,' says Dr Hicks.

Explore further: Artificial intelligence lenses for the blind created

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bionic glasses for poor vision

Jul 06, 2011

A set of glasses packed with technology normally seen in smartphones and games consoles is the main draw at one of the featured stands at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

Artificial intelligence lenses for the blind created

May 20, 2014

Combining computational geometry, artificial intelligence, geo and ultrasound techniques, among others, scientists from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV) created a device to help people ...

Glasses.com turns heads with 3-D iPad app

Feb 28, 2013

Jonathan Coon turned heads Wednesday with iPad software that lets people try on sunglasses by manipulating 3-D images of themselves from the neck up.

'Smart glasses' can improve gait of Parkinson's patients

Oct 16, 2013

A new app for intelligent glasses, such as Google Glass, will soon make it possible to improve the gait of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease and to decrease their risk of falling. Researchers at the University of ...

A glimpse at the future? A smartphone in your glasses

Oct 01, 2012

(Phys.org)—No need to turn to your smartphone to check the time, look at your agenda or the weather forecast, read a text message or map a route in an unfamiliar city. All this information, and much more, will soon be displayed ...

Recommended for you

Microsoft unveils Xbox in China as it faces probe

1 hour ago

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled its Xbox game console in China, the first to enter the market after an official ban 14 years ago, even as it faces a Chinese government probe over business practices.

Teens love vacation selfies; adults, not so much

2 hours ago

(AP)—Jacquie Whitt's trip to the Galapagos with a group of teenagers was memorable not just for the scenery and wildlife, but also for the way the kids preserved their memories. It was, said Whitt, a "selfie ...

Tiny UAVs and hummingbirds are put to test

2 hours ago

Hummingbirds in nature exhibit expert engineering skills, the only birds capable of sustained hovering. A team from the US, British Columbia, and the Netherlands have completed tests to learn more about the ...

US spy agency patents car seat for kids

5 hours ago

Electronic eavesdropping is the National Security Agency's forte, but it seems it also has a special interest in children's car seats, Foreign Policy magazine reported Wednesday.

User comments : 0