Friday, February 15, 2008

SightMate Helps Visually Impared See Better with Technology

Although the device looks like my MyVu glasses for iPod viewing, they are actually helping the blind see. From DailyTech:

For people with visual disabilities like Glaucoma or Diabetic Retinopathy, vision loss is a fact of life that they have to live with. Eyetonomy thinks it has the answer to helping people with visual impairments see better and it’s called the SightMate.

At first glance the SightMate looks very similar to the video glasses that are common for gamers and for watching movies on a simulated big screen. However, the SightMate LV920 has a cyclops like camera in the center of the glasses.

This camera has a 2 megapixel sensor coupled with a 3x optical zoom. Inside the glasses the wearer looks at twin high-resolution 640 x 480 pixel displays that can tilt up to 15 degrees for comfort. The device can also compensate for colorblindness.

The entire system weighs eight ounces and has a controller that weighs less than one pound with the batteries installed. The controller allows the wearer to zoom in and out on objects and control other functions of the system. According to SightMate clinical trials have shown that people with between 20/70 and 20/200 acuity in their best eye have been able to increase their reading and distance acuity to a range of 20/20 to 20/40.

The device also uses edge detection and color correction in concert with the optical zoom to assist users who suffer from gradual visual loss over the entire field of view. SightMate warns that the device is designed to be used while sitting and not designed for use with anything requiring motion like walking or driving.

Eyetonomy sells the SightMate LV920 for $3,499, which seems expensive considering that similar video glasses go for well under $1,000. The other problem with SightMate is that the device looks quite odd.

It will be hard to get those conscientious about their appearance to use this device. However, for use in the home this may be a good stop gap for people with failing vision until something else, like contact lenses with embedded electronics are available.

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