Bionic glasses to help blind

04:02, Jul 14 2011
Bionic glasses
SEEING EYE: LEDs inside the lenses light up in a pattern, alerting the wearer to an obstacle or object ahead.

An Australian scientist has developed the first pair of bionic glasses that could help thousands of legally blind people.

The glasses, using tiny cameras and software technology from video games, alert the wearer to objects in their surroundings using flashing lights.

A neuroscientist, Stephen Hicks, said the glasses had an advantage over the bionic eye, or retinal implants, because they were cheap and non-invasive. ''Essentially they are just an iPhone and a pair of glasses.''

The glasses would be ideal for elderly people with macular degeneration, who see objects as a blur but cannot focus, see much colour or make out specifics.

Video cameras attached to the rim of the glasses capture information about the distance and dimension of objects.

This information is then sent via a wire to a computer processor in the wearer's pocket, which interprets the object as a pattern of dots. Small LEDs built into the lenses then light up in the shape of the pattern.

The brighter the light, the closer the object.

Over the next six months Dr Hicks, a research associate at the University of Oxford, and his team will trial the prototypes on 60 people who are legally blind.

Advances in smart phone technology mean Dr Hicks's glasses can be controlled with a palm-sized computer, and will eventually use a wireless connection.

''A couple of years ago we would have had a laptop in a backpack,'' said Dr Hicks, who presented his invention at The Royal Society's summer science exhibition in London last week.

''There is also a lot of software that can do face recognition and tracking so we are adopting techniques like that too.''

He envisages the glasses eventually being able to read bus numbers and signs, which can be synthesised into a voice and played into the wearer's ear.


Sydney Morning Herald