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Jun 18, 2014 03:30 AM EDT

Oxford’s “Smart Glasses” Aim to Transform Lives of the Partially Blind (VIDEO)


"SMART glasses" - developed by Oxford University researchers - for the visually impaired, undergoes public testing.

Researchers said that the glasses don't restore lost vision but assist users with spatial awareness by providing information about who or what is in front of them. The device helps prevent limited-vision users from slamming into objects like lampposts or tumbling over kerbs and steps. In some cases, facial features are also recognisable, making social interaction seem more natural.

They further said that the glasses function particularly well in low light and can be used to cope with night blindness.

"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," Dr Stephen Hicks of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, who led development of the glasses, said in a statement.

"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 smartphone."

The "smart glasses" feature a pair of video cameras firmly fixed on the frame of the glasses, a computer processing unit that fits in a pocket and software that sends images of nearby objects (people and objects) to the transparent electronic displays in the eyepieces of the glasses.

The camera in the specially-designed software interprets the nearby surroundings, allowing users to see things more clearly than before like kerbs, tables and chairs or even people.

Currently, the "Smart Glasses" are being tested with 30 visually impaired volunteers at Oxford, Cambridge and England. At these venues, the researchers are looking to determine how the device is helping the participants to navigate and avoid walking into obstacles.

Lyn Oliver, a 70-year-old of Faringdon in Oxfordshire, is always accompanied by a guide dog, Jess, to help her navigate. Oliver was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (eye disease) in her early 20s that gradually led to loss of vision.

Oliver is one of the participants to have tried out the glasses.

"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," Oliver said.

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