According to the world health organization, there are over 36 million people in the world that are blind. On top of that, 217 million people have moderate to severe vision impairment (World Health Organization, October 2018). A group of innovative researchers from the University of Oxford designed a method to use technology to enhance sight for the visually impaired with specially designed augmented reality glasses. With such a large portion of the population experiencing significant vision impairment, the impact that assistive technology could have is overwhelming.
OxSight’s augmented reality glasses are designed to enhance vision for people with peripheral vision loss resulting from, for example, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa and homonymous hemianopia. Our eyes are only one piece of the puzzle that allows us to see; our brain is also essential for processing and understanding visual input. The glasses enable an individual that is visually impaired to see better by amplifying the remaining sight they have and helping their brain make sense of the information.
Degenerative eye diseases affect vision in a variety of ways, and how those effects are experienced can also differ per person. OxSight’s glasses can be adjusted and customized to assist with the unique restrictions each individual is facing with their vision. For example, if you have tunnel vision the glasses can enhance your field of view up to 68 degrees horizontally. If you have issues with colour perception the glasses can help emphasize colours, or if your vision is blurry the glasses can pull objects into focus.
Historically walking canes and seeing-eye dogs have been the industry standard for enabling people who are visually impaired to navigate their environment and have independence. These methods alert you to obstacles that are immediately surrounding you but their limitation is that they don’t give you a sense of the environment you are in. In essence OxSight’s glasses act as a hearing aid for the visually impaired, giving them the tools to gain a better sense of awareness of their surroundings beyond just what’s immediately in front of them. They empower wearers to be more intuitive and interactive in the way that they deal with the world around them so they can feel confident as they move around independently, even in unfamiliar areas.
OxSight released the first version of the glasses in July 2018 in the UK. The feedback was exceedingly positive, with people willing to travel from countries across the world to gain access to them. The glasses are now available in multiple countries and OxSight has since released a new version that took into account user feedback, including a more minimalistic look and feel so people can comfortably wear them on a regular basis. Their goal is to continue to improve the aesthetic design of the glasses so they reflect the look and feel of ‘regular’ glasses that people are accustomed to. The next step that they are aiming to take is developing a pair that can be used for people with central vision loss, such as macular degeneration.
The options we have to treat degenerative eye diseases are typically better the earlier we can catch it, and symptoms of eye disease aren’t always obvious to the person experiencing it. Be proactive with your eye health by getting regular eye exams. Book an appointment online or visit an FYidoctors location near you.
[Dr. Stephen Hicks, founder of OxSight, speaks about the impact of their augmented reality glasses for people with limited vision. Video Credit: Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering]