Restoring sight to blind and visually impaired people? It’s possible!
There are thought to be some 45 million blind people worldwide and 216 million people with moderate to severe visual impairment. Although the World Health Organisation has stated that up to 80% of visual impairments can be avoided through improved access to treatment, the number of blind or visually impaired people is growing as the world’s population ages.
Technology and artificial intelligence are together starting to make a difference and help people gain better access to treatment. Here are a few examples which show how an intelligent technology can be a game changer and help everyone to interact with the world, in novel ways.
The eye in IA
The Seeing AI application is designed to help people who are blind or who have low vision. The application enhances users’ daily experiences by augmenting their surroundings with auditory descriptions. A blind or visually impaired person can read a handwritten note or scan a barcode to find out what the product is. The user just needs to point the camera somewhere and the application will describe the people it can see and their position– in the centre, top left, etc.
3-D Sound Maps
For a sighted person, walking along the road can mean taking in all the details around them. A device like Soundscape will replicate the sighted person’s experience by creating a detailed audio map which transmits what is happening around the visually-impaired person. The device creates layers of context and details by drawing on location data, sound beacons and synthesised 3D stereo sound to build up a constantly updated 3D sound map of the surroundings.
Knowledge at your fingertips
While for about 200 years braille has been used as a tactile writing system for people with visual impairment, it has now found itself a place on the screen, following the introduction of screen readers which are able to take in braille digital keyboards and displays. Braille tactile displays work in the same way as tablets and are becoming increasingly popular among students and teachers.
The beacons of change
Foresight Augmented Reality has developed a precision guide system for blind and visually impaired people, which uses Bluetooth beacons. While basic GPS technology can take people to a specific location, the beacons fitted in a shop or restaurant or public building can firstly take them right up to the building entrance and then, once inside, other beacons take over to show them to other places, such as the toilets.
The European Union isn’t ready to take any risks when it comes to individual safety. New EU legislation requires electric vehicles to make an artificial noise when they’re travelling at low speed or reversing. Some car manufacturers have already included the feature in their cars.
Smart glasses are now available which can use AI and enable the wearer to read, follow itineraries and possibly even identify faces. The glasses are connected to a smart phone by a processing unit which allows the system to operate without an Internet connection.
eSight electronic eyewear is the first system that can be used seamlessly in the wearer’s everyday life and works on the basis of visual compensation. The glasses can be worn all day and for most activities. The glasses are still in the initial development stages, but are said to have a reading accuracy rate of 95%
This is just a quick look at showing how assistive and mainstream technologies can help improve the lives of people suffering from visual impairment. There are so many types of technology that we can’t cover the whole lot in a single article.
Assistive technologies have certainly opened up many new possibilities and have helped people get over a vast number of obstacles and the opportunities they might well offer in the future are something we are passionate about!