From Electrodes to Smart Glasses: Augmented vision for the sight-impaired

Stephen Hicks

(Oxford University )

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Date: August 14, 2015


The majority of the world’s 40 million “blind” people have some areas of remaining sight. This is known as residual vision and while it is generally insufficient for sighted tasks such as reading, navigating and detecting faces, it can often be augmented and enhanced through the use of near-eye displays.
Low vision is primarily a problem of contrast: patients are often unable to differentiate target objects (often foreground objects) from busy backgrounds. Depth imaging, and more recently semantic object segmentation, provide the tools to easily isolate foreground objects, allowing them to be enhanced in ways that exaggerate object boundaries, surface features and contrast. Computer vision and 3D mapping are also advancing a new form of enabling device, one that is more aware of its spatial surroundings and able to direct the user to specific objects on demand.
The emergence of small depth-RGB cameras, powerful portable computers and higher quality wearable displays means that for the first time we are able to consider building a vision augmenting system for daily long-term use. The requirements depend somewhat on the eye condition of the user such as the residual visual field, and colour and contrast sensitivity, but also on the needs and context of the user. Advances in all these areas, from low profile displays, deep learning, and context sensitive task prioritisation mean that advanced wearable assistants are now within reach.
In my talk I will discuss our efforts to develop and validate a generally useful Smart Specs platform, which is now part of the first wide-scale test of augmented vision in the UK funded by Google. This work will be put in context of ongoing Oxford projects such as implanted retinal prosthetics, gene therapies and sensory substitution devices. Much of this work has applications beyond visual impairment

Further Information:

Stephen Hicks is a Lecturer in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, and Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow. He is the lead investigator of the Smart Specs research group who are building and validating novel forms of sight enhancement for blind and partially sighted individuals. Stephen completed a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Sydney in Australia, studying vision and spatial memory. On moving to the UK he began a post doctoral position at Imperial College London developing portable eye trackers for neurological diagnoses and computer vision techniques for electronic retinal implants. Stephen joined Oxford in 2009 where he developed concepts for image optimization in prosthetic vision, leading to the formation of the Smart Specs research group. He works closely with Professor Phil Torr in the Department of Engineering to develop semantic imaging systems for 3D object recognition and mapping.
Stephen won the Royal Society’s Brian Mercer Award for Innovation in 2013 and led the team who won the UK’s Google Global Impact Challenge in 2014 to build portable smart glasses for sight enhancement. He is the co-founder of Visual Alchemy Ltd ( which is beginning to commercialize the Smart Specs platform.

Created: Monday, August 17th, 2015