Till now, AR has been used for some shopping apps and gaming, but as technology gets mature, it has come in the aid of people with partial sight. With the help of technology, partially-sighted people can be helped to see even as their eyesight worsens. And to make it possible, OxSight is building augmented-reality glasses that render the physical world visible, even to the visually impaired. OxSight is a University of Oxford venture that uses the latest smart glasses to improve sight for blind and partially-sighted people. Around 1% of the world’s population, approximately 70 million people, are blind. It may not be a huge number, but when you think of it in terms of a potential use base for a consumer product, it becomes a massive number. And currently, there are only a few assistive technologies available as an aid to make easier the lives of the visually impaired. And this is what OxSight aims to do. OxSight is a company that aims to help the visually impaired recognise and navigate objects in their environment.
The sense we experience as vision is the outcome of a constant jigsaw-assembling process in our brain. The eyes only need to pick up specific visual tidbits (like colour, contrast, dimensions) and the occipital and parietal lobes will make sense of the overall picture. Once you start to lose your sight, it becomes difficult to differentiate between a foreground object and a background one as everything becomes a blur. It is here that AR glasses aim to help.
The project is the work of computer vision scientist Philip Torr and neuroscientist Stephen Hicks, both of whom work at Oxford University. For the past several years, they’ve been developing smart AR glasses, which pick up on visual weaknesses in a person’s eyesight and enhance these details—allowing individuals to navigate independently, avoid collisions or see better in dark or low-light conditions.
These glasses use a combination of smart computer vision algorithms and cameras to register scenes in front of an individual and then exaggerate certain details of it. For example, a person with blurry vision due to glaucoma can have the salience of certain important parts of an image enhanced. For people with minimal vision, the software can project a cardboard cutout of what a person looks like. The brain processes three-dimensional space similar to how modern gaming cameras map and define the difference between the floor, a couch and a wall. They identify the larger objects and figure out the relation between them and the user. Using this concept of mapping and how the brain already works, OxSight adds cartoon-like layers to the user’s surroundings.
Most people after trying OxSight’s glasses for the first time felt it gave them the freedom of movement. It increased their ability to go out with more confidence and go to dark places like bars and restaurants, where sight would be limited. To many, the ability to see their family members’ faces again and interact with them has been especially powerful, especially for those who never thought they’d be able to have that experience again.
Having started their work in the research realm, Torr and Hicks started OxSight in 2016. They have received a number of investments, including a £50,00,00 grant in the form of a Google Global Impact Award, and an additional £2 million funding from various angel investors. With the cash in place, they now plan to roll the technology out commercially later this year.