An advanced set of glasses invented by Oxford scientists uses common technology to give the visually impaired a view of the world straight out of science fiction.
The specs, which will be displayed at the 2011 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in the UK, utilize technology ripped from ubiquitous smartphones and gaming consoles to enhance the complex process of human sight.
The glasses have video cameras mounted at the corners to capture what the wearer is looking at, while a display of tiny lights embedded in the see-through lenses of the glasses feed back extra information about objects, people or obstacles in view.
In between, a smartphone-type computer running in your pocket recognises objects in the video image or tracks where a person is, driving the lights in the display in real time.
The extra information the glasses display about their surroundings should allow people to navigate round a room, pick out the most relevant things and locate objects placed nearby.
The goal here, researchers claim, is to utilize the glasses' rudimentary heads-up display to augment the deteriorating vision of people suffering from most common types of vision loss.
"We want to be able to enhance vision in those who've lost it or who have little left or almost none. The glasses should allow people to be more independent -- finding their own directions and signposts, and spotting warning signals," said Dr Stephen Hicks of the Department of Clinical Neurology at Oxford University.
The best bit is that since the technology is already widely available in smartphones, these glasses would be rather inexpensive. Hicks estimates a cost of "around £500" (roughly $800USD) for a finished production model.
The specs are still a long way from retail -- Hicks' team is still assembling prototypes -- but the researchers have been given a grant from the UK's National Institute of Health Research to conduct a year-long feasibility study. Barring major catastrophe, people should be testing the glasses within their own homes by 2012.
Speaking as someone who wears glasses both because my eyes are slowly turning into entirely useless meatorbs and for aesthetic reasons, I'm a bit torn on this concept. Yeah, enhanced vision and a simplified heads-up display would be useful the next time I'm inexplicably caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a Russian spy, but based on the imagery Hicks' team has been circulating, these glasses are straight out of Buddy Holly's premortem wardrobe.
I just don't know if I'm comfortable trading my sex appeal for anything less than laser beams and/or x-ray vision.