‘Smart glasses’ offer ‘a-ha’ moment in low-vision care

‘Smart glasses’ offer ‘a-ha’ moment in low-vision care

Awareness-enhancing smart glasses have partially sighted trial subjects looking into the future of low-vision care and seeing the past—1985 to be exact.

"It appears that individuals with mild visual impairment will benefit the most from Oxford's 'smart glasses' ..."

That's because technology out of the University of Oxford combines camera-mounted spectacles with a pocket-sized processor and electronic display eyepieces to provide people with poor vision a new view of their surroundings, albeit through a hue that harkens back to a popular '80s music video.

The glasses work like this: A video feed highlights the outlines of nearby objects, in a manner that looks like rotoscoping animation, and superimposes that simple image over the wearer's existing vision. The glasses are designed to help with spatial awareness for everyday activities, not to replace lost vision.

Currently in trial testing, the smart glasses are bulky, but researchers hope to eventually create a product that looks like normal eyeglasses and costs about the same as a smart phone.

The project—developed in conjunction with the Royal National Institute of Blind People—was recently submitted into Google's Impact Challenge for further funding.

Helping low-vision patients
Brenda Heinke Montecalvo, O.D., chair of the AOA's Vision Rehabilitation Section (VRS), says the project appears still in its infancy, and further patient trials are needed to determine ease of use and how much function is improved with the device.

"It appears that individuals with mild visual impairment will benefit the most from Oxford's 'smart glasses' while those with severe impairment and complete blindness may have more difficulty organizing and understanding the visual information provided," Dr. Montecalvo states.

Many individuals classified as 'blind' have partial sight to varying degrees, and the field of low-vision rehabilitation seeks to help those people make the best use of it.

Optometrists already aid low-vision patients with tried-and-true devices such as spectacle-mounted magnifiers or miniature telescopes, and 'smart glasses' could help bolster advances in video magnification, as well. Like these other devices, success of 'smart glasses' could hinge on price if the project team delivers as promised.

"The focus on providing an affordable device to those who will benefit from 'smart glasses' is a plus," Dr. Montecalvo says.

Find resources for low-vision care, such as the clinical practice guideline, Care of the Patient with Visual Impairment (Low Vision Rehabilitation), or patient information at aoa.org.

August 5, 2014

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