Eye can see you now

05 June 2011

A non-invasive and low cost prosthetic device that could help tens of thousands of people with visual impairment regain independence is being developed by a team of scientists.  The group will be exhibiting their research on visual prosthetics at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition which opens today (5 July).

Dr Stephen Hicks and his colleagues from The Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford are working on a device, worn like a pair of glasses, which uses sophisticated software to understand what is in front of the wearer. They are currently running a 12-month study to develop and test the feasibility of the device for people with diseases such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Retinitis Pigmentosa.

The device will be made up of a minute camera mounted on glass frames that is connected to a small but powerful computer. Tiny LEDs will be embedded in the glass lens and will light up to represent objects and movement in the wearer’s visual field. Using the camera, the software will recognise objects of interest and the LEDs will display them in a way that is simplified and bright enough to enable a person with limited sight to distinguish nearby objects.

Commenting on his research Dr Stephen Hicks says:

“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. 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.”

Visitors to the exhibit will be able to experience a real-time simulation of the experience of prosthetic vision; play with an interactive display of augmented sight showing the latest in computer vision; manipulate an autonomous seeing machine that demonstrates some of the principles of sight; and get hands on with the components that go into making visual prostheses including microcomputers, cameras and LED displays.