Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Smart specs may replace guide dogs

'Smart specs' for the blind could take the place of white canes and guide dogs, say researchers (Oxford University/PA)
High-tech glasses could take the place of guide-dogs within two years, says scientist

Smart specs for the blind that could take the place of white canes and guide dogs may be available in two years, researchers have said.

The hi-tech glasses are designed to prevent "legally blind" individuals with a small degree of residual vision from bumping into objects.

They use tiny stereo cameras in the frames to project simplified images onto the lenses which become brighter the closer an object is.

From January next year the glasses will be tested in a series of trials involving 160 people with severely impaired sight in Oxford and London. Developer Dr Stephen Hicks, from Oxford University, said he hoped a finished model will be commercially available in around two years.

The cost is expected to be around £600 - slightly more than a smart phone. In comparison, a guide dog costs up to £30,000 to train.

Dr Hicks said the spectacles were designed as a navigational aid, not to restore lost vision.

"The glasses work using a pair of cameras that determine the distance of objects and we simply translate that into a light display," he said. "This is not restoring sight, but we can improve spatial awareness."

Around 300,000 people in the UK are registered as legally blind. Of these, 90% possess some residual vision allowing them to detect blurry shapes and differences between light and dark.

"The aim is to increase the independence of the hundreds of thousands of people who are visually impaired in the UK," said Dr Hicks.

The research was funded through the National Institute for Health Research Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme.

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