As I’m sure most readers are aware, blindness comes in many forms. It’s not simply a matter of the afflicted not being able to see. In fact, there are many degrees of blindness and in most cases, depth perception is limited. But as it turns out, researchers at the University of Yamanashi in Japan have found a way to improve depth perception for the visually challenged using simple augmented reality glasses.
The process involved a pair of Wrap 920 ARs, an off-the-shelf brand of glasses that allow their wearer to interface with their PC, watch video or surf the internet, all the while staying mobile and carrying out their daily chores. The team then recorded images as seen by the wearer from the angle of both eyes, processed it with a quad-core Windows 7 machine, and then merged the images as they would appear to the healthy eye.
Essentially, the glasses perform the task of rendering a scene as it would be seen through “binocular vision” – i.e. in 3D. By taking two images, merging them together and defining what is near and what is far by their relative resolution, they were able to free the wearer’s brain from having to it for them. This in turn allowed them to interact more freely and effectively with their test environment: a dinner table with chop sticks and food in small bowls, arguably a tricky meal to navigate!
Naturally, the technology is still in its infancy. For one, the processed imagery has a fairly low resolution and frame rate, and it requires the glasses to be connected to a laptop. Newer tech will provide better resolution, faster frames per second, and a larger viewport. In addiiton, mobile computing with smartphones and tablets ought to provide for a greater degree of portability, to the point where all the required technology is in the glasses themselves.
Looking ahead, it is possible that there could be a f0rm of AR glasses specially programmed to deliver this kind of vision correction. The glasses would then act as a prosthesis, giving people with visual impairment an increased level of visual acuity, bringing them one step closer to vision recovery. And since this is also a development which will blurring the lines between humans and computers even more, it’s arguably another step closer to transhumanism!