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How Augmented Reality is Changing the Lives of the Visually Impaired

    Vision impairment affects over 250 million people across the globe. With over 40 million people in the world registered blind, the birth of assistive technology has become a game-changer for those who struggle with their sight.

    From adaptive smart glasses to AI-powered e-readers, new devices continue to drop on the market, aiming to provide a slice of normality and independence to people diagnosed with degenerative eye conditions.

    As we enter a new era of immersive technology, augmented and virtual reality has become the next technological pioneers in the healthcare industry. Transforming surgeries to digitalising physical therapy, AR/VR aids continue to make the healthcare industry more efficient.

    The question is, could they become a vital player in assisting the visually impaired? Let’s see how augmented reality is changing the lives of the visually impaired.

    Introducing Smart Glasses

    While smart glasses have been on the market for over a decade, they continue to become more adaptive for visually impaired users. Powered by a combination of augmented reality and artificial intelligence, they have become key players in assisting text translation and identifying objects.

    Smart Glasses

    “The next big technology leap for the blind will most likely come with the introduction of AR glasses,” claims leading industry consultant Tim Bajarin. “Because of their designs, which will include more computing power, better cameras, and more advanced software, along with AI and more powerful mapping systems, they could give the partially or completely blind people even greater freedom and help them have a much richer life.”

    Take Envision’s newest creation, for example. Releasing smart glasses that can scan text in seconds and read it back to the user is essential for visually impaired patients that aim to be independent. Better still, if you’ve undergone a recent eye exam, you can import your individual lens requirements while customising your smart specs to translate languages, identify colours and recognise faces.

    For those only just peaking at the possibilities of AR, OrCam has released their own smart glasses adapter, called My Eye, which can simply clip onto regular frames and assist the visually impaired in identifying faces, colours and objects.

    For those who are not fully blind, this nifty piece of tech can also project larger versions of text, colour and facial expressions in front of them. Using AR, OrCam aims to enhance a user's surroundings and aid people to see with clarity.

    According to researchers at Keck School of Medicine, AR specs can improve the mobility of visually impaired users by a whopping 50%, suggesting that those who use assistive AR could be 70% more efficient when completing daily tasks.

    Spatial Sound

    Spatial sound is also one of the newest AR breakthroughs in the eyecare community. Using AR-powered navigation, spatial sound, also known as a 3D guide, could help visually impaired users explore their surroundings independently.

    The Spatial Sound app takes Google and Apple Maps into account while capturing a visual image of the surroundings using a smartphone camera. These surroundings are quickly analysed in real-time, generating an immersive commentary for blind users that helps them get from point A to B.

    “We're trying to make something very simple where you get the 3D sound from the correct direction. You turn in the direction that the sound is coming from, and then you're good to go,” says app developer and SonarVision CEO Nathan Daix.

    Navigation comes in the form of audio commentary and even vibrations when visually impaired users come across hazards or potential obstacles. With audio maps already drawn up for all major cities across the globe, spatial sound is a must-have for those who feel isolated by their eyesight.

    Augmented exercise

    Could a blind person head out for an independent run? Thanks to the newest development from Google, the introduction of Project Guideline is transforming assistive fitness for the visually impaired.

    While we usually associate the powers of AR and VR with being able to ‘see’ the immersive imaging around us, Google has taken 3D mapping one step further for keen runners who suffer from poor sight.

    Giving blind runners the ability to identify lines on a running track, Project Guideline consists of attaching a small camera to your waist that connects with headphones for an AR-powered sensory experience.

    Runners can hear a sound that raises in volume as they veer further away from the running track. Using assistive tech, therefore, reduces the need for a guide dog or running partner, encouraging assistive exercise to be more independent.

    What’s next for AR assistance?

    After Global Newswire predicted that AR in the eyecare market alone could be worth more than $13 billion by 2030, we have no doubt that there are more innovations to come.

    As AR developers veer into the possibilities of spatial sound as an immersive experience, digitally powered visual aids will only get smarter.

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