OxSight smart glasses help visually impaired to ‘see’

University of Oxford spinout OxSight has announced that a trial of its smart glasses has helped visually impaired and blind people to navigate on their own, avoid collisions and see in the dark.

In a trial across the UK, participants were able to describe people standing several metres away from them – and in some cases they were even able to recognise faces and expressions.

The OxSight smart glasses use a unique camera system and computer vision algorithms to detect and highlight objects, separating them from the background in real-time. The technology was developed at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience by visual prosthetics researcher Dr Stephen Hicks, with support from the Oxford Eye Hospital.

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Hicks, whose team used their understanding of how the brain interprets visual information to develop algorithms that replicate natural visual interpretation processes, said: “About 90% of legally blind people retain some residual vision. Our aim is to allow individuals to make the most of this.

“When a blind person puts on the OxSight Smart Specs they should be able to locate objects and people, recognise where they are and navigate more easily. They can avoid colliding with objects, walk confidently at a normal pace and have more meaningful interactions with friends and family. This can be incredibly empowering.”

The team at OxSight have worked for over ten years to develop a real-time computer vision algorithm that mimics some of the basic components of human visual perception.

“The algorithm detects the distance to nearby objects and forms a depth-map which is then enhanced and displayed on the inside of a pair of glasses,” Hicks added. “It highlights edges and features which make many objects easier to see, especially in low light where many people struggle.”

What users of the device see. Images courtesy of OxSight

What users of the device see. Images courtesy of OxSight

Co-founder Professor Philip Torr, from the university’s Department of Engineering Science, said: “Wearing the OxSight Smart Specs is as straightforward as putting on a pair of reading glasses. They don’t require special training and they help immediately.”

The team will continue to improve the product performance in the coming months, with OxSight CEO Dr Rakesh Roshan noting: “We aim to move swiftly to develop these glasses for the blind community to use day-to-day, greatly improving their independence.

“They have already given us valuable feedback and co-operation, and our aim is to hit our regulatory, technical and manufacturing milestones as quickly as possible.”

The glasses currently allow users to zoom in, change contrast, and choose between a simple white highlight of objects and obstacles, through to enhanced edges and contrast, a cartoon filter that can improve face detection, or a bright and colourful image. Live video is also enabled.

The company also announced that it has successfully raised a seed funding round from Oxford angel investor Mr Zhang Jiangong. OxSight will use this funding to continue to develop the smart glasses.

Zhang, who has provided support to the company over the last three years, said: “OxSight offers immense value to society globally. It has been a great pleasure working with a very talented team at Oxford and we look forward to building new partnerships and making a significant impact.”

Existing project partners include Google, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the University of Oxford, the NIHR i4i scheme, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Oxford University Innovation.

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