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November 7, 2017

Augmented reality glasses will soon help legally blind people see again

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Augmented reality could be a tool that gives thousands of legally blind people greater independence.

Although this will no doubt change over time as the technology becomes more mature, right now augmented reality (AR) is mainly being used for retail apps and games. Now, we may love shopping and gaming as much as the next person, but a technology as genuinely transformative as AR surely has a few more profoundly life-changing applications hiding up its sleeve. One of those use-cases? Helping people who are legally blind or have otherwise impaired vision to see again.

The project is the work of computer vision scientist Philip Torr and neuroscientist Stephen Hicks, both of whom work at the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford. For the past several years, they’ve been developing smart AR glasses, which pick up on visual weaknesses in a person’s eyesight and enhance these details — allowing individuals to navigate independently, avoid collisions, or see better in dark or low-light conditions. These glasses use a combination of smart computer vision algorithms and cameras to register scenes in front of an individual, and then exaggerate certain details of it — such as increasing image contrast, highlight specific features, or creating “cartoonish representations of reality” — depending on the requirements of the user. For example, a person with blurry vision due to glaucoma can have the salience of certain important parts of an image enhanced.

Having started their work in the research realm, Torr and Hicks spun it off as its own company, called OxSight, in 2016. To help with this, they have received a number of investments, including a $658,000 grant in the form of a Google Global Impact Award, and additional funding from angel investors. With their help, they now plan to roll the technology out commercially later this year. The glasses are powered by Android, although the creators promise that the final versions will look just like regular sunglasses, so they shouldn’t make their users stand out from the crowd.

Sadly, they’re not spilling any more details about the glasses’ tech specs. When Digital Trends contacted OxSight, we were told that they are not giving any more interviews until the glasses are ready to launch. Hopefully we’ll have an update soon.

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