Oxford team develops bionic specs

Oxford University scientists are protptyping glasses that could help people with severely limited vision see again.

Using video cameras, position detectors, face recognition and tracking software, the team is working on a normal-looking pair of glasses that could help those who have just a small area of vision left, have cloudy or blurry vision, or can’t process detailed images.

They’d be suitable for common types of visual impairment such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

“We want to be able to enhance vision in those who’ve lost it or who have little left or almost none,” says Dr Stephen Hicks of the Department of Clinical Neurology.

“The glasses should allow people to be more independent – finding their own directions and signposts, and spotting warning signals.”

The glasses have video cameras mounted at the corners to capture what the wearer is looking at, while a display of tiny lights embedded in the lenses feed back extra information about objects, people or obstacles in view. Different colors could represent different people or objects, and brightness indicate how close an object is.

A pocket computer recognises objects in the video image or tracks where a person is, driving the lights in the display in real time.

“The glasses must look discreet, allow eye contact between people and present a simplified image to people with poor vision, to help them maintain independence in life,’ says Hicks.

“These guiding principles are important for coming up with an aid that is acceptable for people to wear in public, with eye contact being so important in social relationships.”

The team is also working on including optical character recognition, allowing everything from newspaper headlines to barcodes to be read.

Hicks reckons the glasses could cost as little as £500. The team is planning a year-long feasibility study starting later this year.