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Hi-tech specs may replace guide dogs

Smart specs for the blind could replace white canes and guide dogs in two years.

The hi-tech glasses are designed to prevent “legally blind” individuals with a small degree of residual vision from bumping into objects.

The visual aids use tiny stereo cameras in the frames to project simplified images onto the lenses which become brighter the closer an object is.

From January next year the glasses will be tested in a series of trials involving 160 people with severely impaired sight in Oxford and London.

Developer Dr Stephen Hicks, from Oxford University, said he hoped a finished model will be commercially available in around two years. The cost is expected to be around £600 – slightly more than a smart phone. In comparison, a guide dog costs up to £30,000 to train.

Dr Hicks explained: “The glasses work using a pair of cameras that determine the distance of objects and we simply 
translate that into a light ­display”.

But he emphasised: “This is not restoring sight, but we can improve spatial awareness.”

About 300,000 people in the UK are registered as legally blind. Of these, 90 per cent possess some residual vision allowing them to detect blurry shapes and differences between light and dark.

Research has shown that fewer than half of people who are legally blind attempt to leave their homes on a daily basis, said Dr Hicks. He added. “The aim is to increase the independence of the hundreds of thousands of people who are visually impaired in the UK,”

A pilot study last year is said to have yielded “very encouraging” results.

 

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