LED glasses assist visually impaired
Glasses that can help the visually impaired are being facilitated by National Instruments. Paul Fanning reports.
A system designed to help the visually impaired to recognise and identify objects is being developed that could revolutionise the life of tens of thousands of sufferers in the UK alone.
Stephen Hicks and Luis Moreno 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 a head-mounted display, which can indicated the position and class of objects in the user's vicinity.
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. Using NI LabVIEW software, the NI Vision Development Module, and the NI USB-8451 interface to prototype and validate innovative, technology-based techniques are being deployed to develop this solution.
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 minimising hardware requirements.
Says Luis Moreno: "By using the USB-8451 interface to simultaneously acquire data from the gyroscope and control the LEDs, we minimised our hardware requirements. This both simplified system development and saved us money."
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..
Says Stephen Hicks: "There are enless possibilities for future iterations of this technology. We could use coloured LEDs to feed different information to the wearer so that they can differentiate between different objects, such as people and road signs. We could also establish the proximity of detected objects by controlling the brightness of the LED array.
"We believe that we could further improve our optical character recognition routines, enabling the technology to distinguish newspaper headlines from a video image before reading them back to the wearer through integrated earphones. Similarly, we could integrate barcode identification algorithms, which already exist as part of the NI Vision Development Module to identify products and download prices that could be read back to the wearer."
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