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Augmented Reality Glasses May Soon Help People with Low Vision See Better

Poor or low vision is a common occurrence, especially amongst people over the age of 40. While some of the issues can be rectified through the use of glasses, lenses, surgery or medication, others are permanent problems with no valid treatment. However, there may be a ray of hope for those suffering from such degenerative eye conditions with the help of augmented reality technology.

Researchers at the USC Keck School of Medicine studied a group of patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, which is a degenerative eye disorder. With the help of adaptive AR glasses, the scientists noticed a 50% improvement in mobility and a whopping 70% improvement in the grasping ability of the patients afflicted by the disease.

According to Mark Humayun, the Ophthalmology Professor at the Keck School, current low-tech vision aids rely on virtual reality. Using them can be difficult and requires patients to undergo extensive training.

With the new AR glasses, the researchers are trying not to replace, but to enhance the natural senses. The technology relays a bright light into the retinas of the wearer, corresponding to the obstacles nearby. – Mark Humayun

As part of the experiment, the patients had to cross an obstacle course while wearing the AR glasses. This course was based on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s functional test. As each patient walked through the course, researchers noted how long they took to complete the course as well as how many collisions they suffered. The test revealed that with the assistance of AR glasses, the subjects suffered 50% fewer collisions in the course.

Another part of the test involved touching a wooden peg placed on a black background, without touching the items placed in front of the peg. When wearing special glasses, patients’ grasping ability improved by 70%.

Anastasios N. Angelopoulos, the study’s project lead at Keck School claims that the ultimate goal here is to increase the confidence and independence of people suffering from low vision disorders.

How do the augmented reality glasses work?

The AR technology detects obstacles or items in a 6-foot radius. It overlays these obstacles with bright colours, which are transported into the retina of the visually-challenged person. This real-time feedback of obstacles around them aids affected people in avoiding collisions and accidents.

This technology takes advantage of real-time 3D rendering procedure. After compiling this data, it is projected into a semi-transparent overlay. All patients need to do is avoid going toward the bright lights, as they represent obstacles. Researchers say that in its current form, the glasses can work with commercially available devices in the market.

However, some problems do exist in adopting this technology. Firstly, even though augmented reality technology has grown in popularity, it is still extremely costly and unaffordable for the average person. Additionally, technical issues plague the technology at present.

Scientists claim that given more time and resources, AR glasses offer feasible solutions to the eyesight problems linked with degenerative diseases. Very soon, it may become quite commonplace and a practical piece of technology for daily use.


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