SEATTLE – The term “wearable technology” brings to mind heads-up displays such as GoogleGlass and augmented and virtual reality, but “wearable assessable technology” will be designed from the ground up with the visually impaired person in mind.
Private practitioner Bryan M. Wolynski, OD, FAAO, told attendees here at Optometry’s Meeting that this technology must not be an afterthought.
This is about your Stargardt’s or age-related macular degeneration retinitis pigmentosa patients, he said, who are using their devices successfully. But consider scenarios where wearable assessable technology would provide advantages, such as an office worker being handed a piece of paper about a meeting that she must return to her office to read or a man who spends most of his time in his basement and away from his family because his large low vision equipment is downstairs.
Bryan M. Wolynski
“The need must create the technology,” Wolynski said. “And the technology must be portable, affordable, easy to use and useful for all types of vision loss.”
ESight, of Canada, has glasses that contain a video camera to film what is in front of the patient’s eyes, he said. They can be used for reading and distance, as long as patients have some vision. Patients can adjust certain parameters such as contrast.
BrainPort is working on technology based on the premise that the brain can still see even though the eyes cannot.
“The brain codes sensory information the same way for all senses,” Wolynski said. Patients with low vision just “need an alternate sensory input.”
He explained that a camera takes a picture and sends electronic impulses to a sensor the patient wears on the tongue.
“Patients say it feels like champagne bubbles,” Wolynski said. “People can see shapes and sizes while using this. They’ve been doing indoor rock climbing using this device. It takes 10 hours of training to teach your brain to recognize this.”
OrCam of Jerusalem, Israel, is making an intuitive, portable smart camera that attaches to the user’s existing glasses, he continued.
Wolynski explained that the device speaks what it sees to the patient through an ear piece. It can read text and recognize products that the user teaches it and has facial recognition. The wearer points their finger, and the camera takes a picture of it.
“Wearable technology is creating independence,” Wolynski concluded. “That woman who is handed the piece of paper can read it immediately. The man in the basement can now sit in the kitchen and read through mail.
“I like to think that one day the blind will also drive,” he added. – by Nancy Hemphill, ELS, FAAO
Disclosure: Wolynski is a consultant for OrCam Technologies.