One of the common misconceptions associated with blindness is that it refers to one’s complete inability to see. However, a “blind” person may have some degree of residual vision or be able to detect changes in contrast. And just as there are scientists out there working to develop limb prosthetics, there are also some working on visual prosthetics, which are electronic aids that support sight for visually impaired people.
Scientists at the University of Oxford’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences built a prototype for a pair of glasses that uses the individual's ability to sense changes in contrast. They acquire video feeds from head-mounted cameras, and process the image data to detect nearby objects of interest such as people, sign posts, or obstacles to navigate. The detected objects are simplified and displayed back to the user via banks of LEDs attached to the head-mounted display.
The goal is to incorporate this technology into a pair of electronic glasses. They already have a name for them: Smart Specs. These glasses will give visually impaired individuals more independence by helping them identify nearby objects and navigate their surroundings. When put into production, Smart Specs will cost about the same as modern smartphones, a much less expensive option than having to train a guide dog.
The team developed the simulation software using LabVIEW and the NI Vision Development Module because it provided ready-to-run vision analysis functions and drivers for acquiring, displaying, and logging images from a multitude of camera types. They also used the NI USB-8451 interface to acquire data from a gyroscope and control the LEDs, thereby minimizing hardware requirements.