Tuesday, September 15, 2009
High-Tech Glasses Help Visually Impaired See
I read several stories each week from people and companies who claim to have invented a device to help people with vision impairments. In fact, a company that claims its pinhole glasses are effective for restoring vision asked me to review their product a while back. I did, and never heard from them after that. (Surprise, surprise!). But, one story I read this week did pique my interest.
An Ottawa company is developing computerized glasses that help people with severe visual impairments see — as well as zoom in on and replay what they saw with the press of a button.
The device, which resembles a pair of large sunglasses, has a high-resolution camera on the outside and tiny LCD screens on the inside that project images to the wearer's eyes.
Before the image is projected, it's custom-processed by a tiny computer, said company president Rob Hilkes. "So that when it's presented to a person who has diseased eyes … it's presented to the pieces of their vision that are most functional," he added.
Réjean Munger, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who helped develop the glasses, said that can help people with a variety of diseases. "We can take advantage of every bit of vision they have," he said.
The company hopes to start commercial production next year.
Anne Lewis, who is legally blind as a result of Stargardt's disease, has been testing the prototype and is very excited about it. "I see this product as a gift; I truly do," she said at the news conference announcing the funding.
Lewis is the sister of Conrad Lewis, eSight's chairman and one of the company's founders, and her disability was the inspiration for the glasses. Stardgardt's disease is a form of macular degeneration that has destroyed Anne Lewis's sight except for her peripheral vision. "It's like looking at a bubble and the inside of the bubble is black, the outside is clear," she said.
Lewis said using the glasses will allow her to read body language in meetings at work, stand on her deck and see flowers blooming, navigate shopping malls and flag down the right bus. Unlike other products she has tried, it works even while she is moving.
The product is expected to be able to help people with age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and retinitis pigmentosa.
I found a website for the company, but there is not a lot of information posted yet. But I will definitely be checking back. This is the best application of technology that I have heard about in a long time for people with visual impairments.