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‘Smart glasses’ for the blind; a modern medical miracle?

Posted by Salla Savolainen on 24th June 2014

As far as senses go, sight is a pretty important one. We can probably imagine life without a sense of smell, or taste, and while that would be annoying (and quite upsetting), it certainly wouldn’t require you to alter your lifestyle in any major way. Losing your eyesight though, would not just be inconvenient but would drastically change your life. Imagine then what a thing it would be for those who have lost the better part of their sight, to be told that there was a way for them to see again, even if only to see basic shapes and forms.

Researchers at Oxford University have announced their success in creating a pair of glasses, currently being referred to as ‘smart glasses’, which differ from Google Glass, in that they are being used to improve the eyesight of the legally blind and partially sighted.

Unfortunately the glasses can’t actually restore sight to the blind (which really would be miraculous), but can be used to enhance their existing sight, and have proven to be very helpful in assisting with spatial awareness in particular. The research and development of these ‘smart glasses’ is being carried out with the support of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and being funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

These glasses are a huge step in medical technology and could help improve the living standards of thousands of people and allow them to better distinguish potential obstacles, facial features and to navigate social settings with considerably more ease. The research team at Oxford University have also said that these glasses work particularly well in low light, helping wearers at night when seeing is often much harder. Enhanced sight at night would also provide considerable safety benefits for the partially sighted and give them a greater sense of independence.

Currently, the glasses come with a computer processing unit and a video camera mounted onto the glasses, but Dr Stephen Hicks, who is leading the development of the glasses says that the aim is for them to look just like regular glasses, and to cost about as much as a smartphone, in order to make them affordable for the general public.

The glasses are still a work-in-progress but the project has already received additional funding and future developments include incorporating more features into the glasses, such as potentially improving wearers’ ability to recognise faces, objects and text – monumentally changing the lives of thousands of people around the world.

Image credit: Oxford University

Salla Savolainen