A pair of glasses that is able to ‘read’ text and convert it into speech allowing blind and visually impaired people has been tested by scientists. The device looks like a small camera attached to the side of a pair of glasses.
Using OCR – ‘optical character reading’ technology, the camera and tiny computer it contains can read printed materials. It is activated by pointing it at an object and pressing a trigger button. The speech output is then fed into the earpiece of the person wearing the glasses.
Many people with partial sight have to carry around a heavy magnifying glass to read text.
A pair of glasses (pictured) that is able to ‘read’ text and convert it into speech allowing blind and visually impaired people has been tested by scientists.
The device looks like a small camera attached to the side of a pair of glasses and uses OCR
Researchers at the University of California said the new system dramatically improves the ability of people with limited sight to read books, menus, newspapers and emails. The camera is not limited to text: its makers said it can also recognise faces and products.
The research paper ‘Evaluation of a Portable Artificial Vision Device among Patients with Low Vision’ has been published in the US journal JAMA Ophthalmology.
Dr Mark Mannis and colleagues carried out research on 12 people with low vision – six men and six women with an average age of 62. He said: ‘Age-related macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of blindness in the elderly and it has no cure in its advanced stages.
Researchers at the University of California tested the glasses on 12 people with low vision – six men and six women (a volunteer pictured)
‘This device offers hope to patients who are beyond medical or surgical therapy for the condition. It is easily used and could potentially bring greater independence, particularly for older patients who are struggling with vision loss,’ he said.
The participants were all legally blind from a variety of disorders including macular degeneration and glaucoma. To get a baseline idea of the subjects’ sight, they were asked to perform a ten item test using only glasses.
Initially, none of the participants could perform five of the tasks.
Earlier this year, OrCam was tested by Luke Hines (pictured), 27, of Ilfracombe, who is blind in one eye and only three per cent vision in the other, described the device as ‘life changing’ and meant he could now embark on studying at university
These were reading a message on a smartphone, a newspaper article, a menu, letter or page from a book.
Eleven could recognise banknotes, eight could find a room in a hallway using wall mounted signs, and seven could recognise products and distinguish between similar sized and shaped breakfast cereal boxes.
After using it for a week, all of the subjects were able to carry out at least nine of the 10 items on the test and said they found it easy to use and would consider using it in their daily lives.
The tiny wearable computer uses audio feedback to relay visual information that they can not see, enabling them to take on new tasks they were unable to perform alone before. A miniature camera fitted to the frame takes photos of text or signs and uses artificial vision software to read back to him through an ear piece
The authors performed a separate sub-analysis of seven patients who were using other low-vision aids and found that their performance on the test was better when using the device, as well.
‘Patients with low vision often are often dependent on hand-held or electronic magnifiers, which may be somewhat cumbersome to use’, said Elad Moisseiev, co-author and UC Davis vitreoretinal surgery fellow.
‘This is the first independent clinical study to evaluate this new low-vision-aid device based on novel optical-character recognition technology,’ Dr Moisseiev added.
With the ability to read books for the first time, Mr Hines (pictured) is now hoping to attend college – something which he said he would never have imagined doing so just weeks ago.
‘Our results show that it can be a very useful aid for patients with low vision in performing activities of daily living, and increase their functional independence.’
The device – marketed as OrCam and invented by an Israeli company – is on sale in the US for between $2500-$3500 (£1700-£2400). The device has not yet been launched in the UK.