Scientists at the Carlos III University in Madrid (UC3M) have developed a specialised pair of glasses to help individuals with moderate visual impairments to better perceive their surroundings. The device can assist people who have difficulty perceiving the full extent of their surrounding environments to judge the shape and proximity of objects that they might otherwise have failed to detect.
The device has been developed through UC3M’s Project for Integrated Technical, Portable and Accessible Aids for the Visually Impaired (ATIDivisTA), as part of a grant competition held by the Autonomous Community of Madrid. Initially, the team created a prototype using a head mounted display (HMD), two cameras and a small computer. The computer processes the visual data obtained by the cameras and employs an algorithm developed by the researchers to determine the proximity and shape of different objects. The system then communicates the information to the user in real time via two micro-screens. The outlines of objects in a particular scene are displayed in varying colours, depending on their distance from the user.
"This device is aimed at people who would bump into everything that they fail to see because of their loss of visual field, caused by glaucoma, retinal pathologies, etc." explained Professor Ricardo Vergaz from UC3M’s Electronics Technology Department. "It detects objects and people who move within the visual field that a person with no visual pathologies would have. Very often the patient does not detect them due to problems of contrast. The information regarding depth is what is most missed by patients who use this type of technical aid."
Following on from the success of the prototype, this technology is undergoing trials using intelligent goggles. In a collaborative effort, researchers from the University of Valladolid’s Institute for Applied Opthalmology (IOBA) are currently conducting clinical tests to gauge the device’s validity and applicability.
"After testing the device on a representative sample population of patients who could use it, the IOBA will inform us of their final results at the end of this year; this will allow us to evaluate the success and validity of its performance and then improve it," explained Professir Vergaz. If these trials are successful, the team hopes to improve the ergonomics of the device to mitigate any potential inconvenience to the wearer.
It is hoped that these glasses, alongside other ATIDivisTA ventures such as the development of a virtual magnifying glass, will enhance the quality of life for individuals with visual impairments.