Dr Stephen Hicks started OxSight from his lab at the University of Oxford. He set out to develop a wearable prosthetic for people with visual impairments. Twelve months later, the product is getting ready to go to market.
Unlike many start-ups and spin out companies, Oxsight has a very specialised audience. The product’s target audience are those registered as legally blind. Its unique selling point is that the smart specs’ technology can allow people to see again.
The smart glasses work by coupling a camera system with computer vision algorithms. This can detect and highlight objects and display them clearly to the wearer. Most people who are registered as blind retain a small amount of vision, even if only the detection of light or movement. Smart specs make use of this remaining sight to help tackle the challenges of everyday life.
The glasses can help several eye conditions, but work best for those with ‘central vision’. Also known as ‘tunnel vision’, this includes conditions like Retinitis Pigmentosa and glaucoma.
Early versions matched the wearable glasses with a separate battery pack and processor. Furnished with tactile buttons and dials, users could switch between modes with ease. A later edition sees the same technology shrunk down to fit neatly into the arms of glasses.
Each person experiences sight loss differently and the variety of modes allows glasses to aid as many as possible. As people begin to lose their sight, objects in the foreground often become hard to separate from the background. At their most basic, the glasses can create a simple depth map. This makes objects at the front of view appear brighter, while those behind fade to black.
The next ‘level up’ sees detail added. Bright outlines denote the edges of objects, making them more easily identifiable. Another mode applies a cartoon-like filter to foreground objects. This mode brings out the features on faces in the foreground. While images are quite pixelated, it allows expressions and reactions to be seen.
Users can also pause and magnify images, zooming in to explore details in more depth. While the glasses cannot currently return full vision, they can give greater warning of obstacles that canes and guide dogs can miss. This offers the wearer a much greater freedom of movement.
In its current iteration, the team hope to have products on the shelves towards the end of this year or early next. The next steps for OxSight will then be to shrink the technology even further and improve on the heads up displays that it can provide.