A pair of lightweight spectacles with in-built stereoscopic cameras similar to those used in computer games consoles could soon be helping the blind to see again, scientists said on the eve of the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition which opens today.
The spectacles are being designed for the many tens of thousands of partially-sighted people who could benefit from a visual-prosthetic device that allows them to be aware of people or objects in their field of vision.
Stephen Hicks of the University of Oxford said that the materials and software used in the device are similar to those used in the smart-phone revolution and the computer games industry, where stereoscopic cameras are used to identify the body movements of players in real time.
Tiny stereo cameras in the spectacles capture simplified images of a scene and send them to a series of small light-emitting diodes (LEDs) set within in the surfaces of the spectacle’s lenses. As people with limited vision look through the lenses, they are able to distinguish between objects in their field of vision that would otherwise be unrecognisable, Dr Hicks said.
“We’re aiming to design a visual aid that is as discreet and economical as possible. No one really wants to wear a bulky camera or computer headset,” Dr Hicks said. “We’re strong believers that assisted technologies should be as cheap as possible. It’s very satisfying to think that the relatively low cost of its components should make this device easily available to the people who need it most.”
The university’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences is currently running a 12-month study to develop and test the feasibility of the spectacles for people with debilitating eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Dr Hicks said that he hopes to develop a prototype within the next 12 months for a two-year clinical trial beginning next year.
The research is one of 22 projects being highlighted at the Royal Society’s summer exhibition, which is a showcase of some of the country’s most exciting and innovative science, from new ways of analysing X-ray images of holiday luggage to improving the ability of robots to recognise emotions displayed in human faces.