Smart glasses that emit a sound when an object comes into their field of view could help people who are blind to locate certain items.
Some people who are blind can be trained to move via echolocation. This involves them sending out a noise that bounces off objects in their vicinity, with the returning echoes giving information about their surrounding area.
Inspired by this ability, Howe Zhu at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia and his colleagues wanted to create glasses that similarly give people information about what objects are close to them. “We wanted to help blind people navigate in a much more fluent manner,” says Zhu.
The researchers first took a pair of augmented-reality glasses with two front-facing cameras and built-in speakers. They then designed a smartphone app that used deep learning to process the visual information captured by the glasses to identify four objects: a bowl, cup, book and bottle.
The team programmed a sound to play from the speakers when one of the objects came into the glasses’ field of view as a wearer scanned their head around a room. Each of the objects was assigned a corresponding sound. For example, when a book came into view, the wearer heard a page turning.
To test the glasses, the team enlisted seven people with varying degrees of light perception and seven people with no sight issues who were blindfolded. They were all sat at a table with the four objects arranged on top.
When asked to pick up one of the objects, the participants who were either blind or had low vision were able to do so correctly 81 per cent of the time, compared with a 73 per cent success rate for the blindfolded participants. “With a blindfolded person, you’re taking away a sense,” says Zhu. They would therefore be expected to take longer to adapt to be being blindfolded and using the glasses, he says.
The team also found that the participants who were blind or had low vision experienced no extra cognitive workload, assessed via a questionnaire, while wearing the glasses compared with at the beginning of the study, which suggests that the glasses were relatively easy to adapt to.
The researchers now hope to develop this technology to recognise more objects and to allow people to use it while they are walking around.