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The smart glasses that could help partially blind people to see

Scientists at Oxford University have invented a pair of smart glasses which help visually impaired people to see.

The glasses consist of a video camera which is mounted on the frame of the specs, coupled with a small computer unit which runs software that processes and generates images of nearby objects and people on the transparent electronic displays of the glasses, effectively allowing the visually impaired wearer to make the most of what eyesight they have, and be able to see them.

The man leading the development of the gadget, Dr Stephen Hicks of the Clinical Neurosciences department at Oxford, commented: "The idea of the smart glasses is to give people with poor vision an aid that boosts their awareness of what's around them – allowing greater freedom, independence and confidence to get about, and a much improved quality of life."

For some people – depending on the exact quality of their diminished eyesight – they might even make facial expressions of others easier to see, thereby making social interaction more natural.

While they are obviously rather clunky looking now, the smart glasses are still in the testing stage, with subjects trying them out in Oxford and Cambridge. Eventually, Hicks envisages the device as looking just like a regular pair of glasses, and retailing at no more than a few hundred pounds. And given that, they'll certainly make a big difference to many people's lives.

Lyn Oliver, a 70-year-old who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her twenties, has been one of the first folks to test the glasses along with her guide dog Jess. She said: "If Jess stops, the glasses can tell me if she's stopped because there's a kerb, there's something on the floor or it's roadworks, and it'll give me a sense of which way she may go around the obstacle."

A small initial batch of the specs will be made later this year, with greater quantities expected to follow over the next couple of years. Also, work on the glasses will continue, with potential further features being added including face, object and text recognition, complete with an earpiece that could relay audio to the wearer describing what they are seeing, or reading out the text on a sign.

Google Glass is also finding applications in the health arena, with the release of a new app for doctors as we reported earlier this month.

Image Credit: Oxford University