6 amazing examples of game-changing technology for the blind community

In the United States there are roughly 8.4 million people with some form of visual impairment. In the entire world, that figure increases to 253 million, a population size greater than that of Brazil. Can technology help them?

Having previously looked at some of the amazing accessibility tools available to the deaf community, here are six of the amazing breakthroughs aimed at helping those with visual impairments. Regardless of whatever else may be happening, this is a reminder of why we’re glad to be alive in 2018:

The power of augmented reality

When people talk about the possibilities of augmented reality (AR) tech they unfortunately tend to gravitate way too quickly to retail apps and games. Helping people who are legally blind or have impaired vision could be significantly more life-changing, however.

With this in mind, researchers at the U.K.’s University of Oxford are developing smart glasses that can pick up on specific weaknesses in a person’s eyesight and enhance just those details. The OxSight glasses use a combination of computer vision algorithms and cameras to exaggerate certain details in an image, such as increasing image contrast or highlighting specific features.

The Android-powered glasses aren’t out yet, but the project creators claim the final versions will look just like regular sunglasses, so shouldn’t make users stand out from the crowd.

Braille translation

tactile mit braille translator dsc 0003  1

We take it for granted that machine translation tools can translate, say, German into English. But what about translating into Braille, the tactile writing system developed for people with visual impairments? That’s something MIT’s “Team Tactile” have been working on with a device designed to carry out real-time translation of “regular” text into Braille.

The gadget features a scanning mechanism which lets users take an image of a picture to be translated. Optical character recognition (OCR) tech is then used to extract the text, before the lines of translated text appear on a physical display, which features pins that move up and down to form the Braille characters.

The team aims to have a final prototype ready for manufacturing in the next couple of years.

Indoor mapping technology

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have created an app for Microsoft’s mixed reality HoloLens device which can guide individuals through a complex building with a combination of 360-degree sound and real-time room/object mapping.

This could be used to either guide individuals to specific objects or to help them follow a pre-set path by calling out the words “follow me” from the direction they need to head in.

“Our design principle is to give sounds to all relevant objects in the environment,” a paper written by the creators states. “Each object in the scene can talk to the user with a voice that comes from the object’s location. The voice’s pitch increases as the object gets closer. The user actively selects which objects speak through several modes of control.”

An easier Braille substitute

Braille is brilliant for those able to read it, but doing so can be pretty darn tough. But there’s good news: A simpler alternative hit Kickstarter earlier this year, promising a new font which can be learned in hours instead of months. ELIA Frames, as it’s called, can be installed on a computer like a regular font, and then put onto paper using a special printer that’s capable of tactile printing. Current shipping plans are for later this year.

“We customized the standard alphabet for tactile reading,” creator Andrew Chepaitis Digital Trends. “It is raised print, optimized for a specific use case. We set about applying best practices from the field of human factors design to the standard alphabet. But standard alphabet letters weren’t made for tactile reading, so we pushed the basic elements of each letter to the edges of a given space by using a frame. We then added the core elements of the letters to the interior of the frame, and iteratively tested letter designs to identify what is easiest to feel.”

An obstacle-aware wearable


If you don’t want to wear an intrusive Hololens headset, you might want to try the wearable device developed by researchers at VTT Technical Research Center of Finland.

Called Guidesense, it’s a box-shaped device that’s worn like a heart rate monitor. Thanks to millimeter wave radar sensors, the device is able to detect obstacles — even including thin overhanging branches — in the path of the wearer, and then relay this information in the form of haptic and audio feedback. In tests, 92 percent of subjects said Guidesense helped them better perceive their environment, while 80 percent felt more confident moving around on their own.

Bionic eyes and 3D bioprinting

All of the options on this list do a great job of presenting technology which could help a person work around their visual impairment. But what if it was possible to actually use technology to restore a person’s eyesight for real? That idea is, in fact, getting closer to reality.

For instance, earlier this year, researchers at the U.K.’s Newcastle University mixed stem cells with algae molecules to create a bio-ink, with which they 3D-printed an artificial cornea. In another piece of research, the company VisionCare has developed an Implantable Miniature Telescope, which can replace the eyeball’s regular lens and restore parts of patients’ vision.

While both of these technologies are still early in their life cycles, they hint that the next major wave of tech for people with visual impairments may be even more transformative than the current options.

Product Review

The gorgeous Oppo Find X plays hard to get, but is it worth the chase?

Is the Oppo Find X the most beautiful smartphone we’ve ever seen? We think it’s right up there, but because it’s an import-only phone, you’ll have to put in some effort to get one. Is it worth going the extra mile?
Emerging Tech

Scientists try to trick brains of amputees with phantom limb syndrome

New research might help some amputees better mesh what they see with what they feel. In a recently published paper, researchers show how an amputee’s brain can be tricked into believing a prosthetic hand belongs to their own body.
Movies & TV

Out of TV shows to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.

Bigger isn’t always better: 5 of the smallest smartphones worth buying

Phones are getting larger and larger, but what options exist for the small-of-hand, or people who just want a phone they can use one-handed? In a world of phablets, some of the smallest smartphones can still pack a punch.
Emerging Tech

The world’s first practical quantum computer has cash and a timeline

The dream of building a practical quantum computer could be closer than ever, thanks to a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to seven universities around the United States.
Emerging Tech

Forget flying cars: This shoe-tying robot is proof that the future is here

Engineering students from the University of California, Davis, recently built a robot whose sole personality in life is to tie shoelaces. It cost them under $600 to do it as well!
Emerging Tech

Bizarre stork robot uses a drone to compensate for its weak, twig-like legs

Developed by engineers from Japan’s University of Tokyo, Aerial Biped is a robot whose top half is comprised of a flying quadrotor UAV that's rooted to the ground by thin stork-like legs.
Emerging Tech

A treasure trove of 3D scientific specimens is now free to see online

Thanks to the California Academy of Sciences, you can access more than 700 scientific specimens and artifacts from the world-class collection via the online 3D and virtual reality platform Sketchfab.
Emerging Tech

Lyd is a battery-powered, ‘no-spill’ bottle that is activated by your lips

Lyd is a battery-powered bottle that’s something like a sippy cup for adults. Its no-spill solution is a specialized lid that uses an algorithm to detect when your lips are on the bottle.
Emerging Tech

Cotton and corn! Reebok’s newest sneaker is ‘made from things that grow’

Keen to move away from using oil-based materials to make its footwear, Reebok has turned to cotton and corn for its latest sneaker. No dyes have been used to color the shoes, either, and the packaging is 100 percent recyclable.

Apple AR glasses will launch in 2020, says respected industry analyst

Apple AR glasses may be closer to reality than we thought. Here is everything we know so far about the augmented reality system, including the rumored specifications of Apple's Project Mirrorshades.
Emerging Tech

A new way to ‘freeze’ water could help transform organ preservation

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a way of keeping water as a liquid at temperatures far below freezing. Here's why that could help transform organ preservation.
Emerging Tech

Meet the Mantis Q: A drone you can control by yelling, waving, or even smiling

"Mantis, take a picture." Yuneec's new consumer drone, the Yuneec Mantis Q, responds to voice commands along with gestures and smiles. The 4K drone also integrates several different flight modes and safety features inside a one-pound…
Emerging Tech

This robot arm could soon recharge your electric car, no driver effort required

Researchers in Austria have developed a smart robotic charger that can automatically plug itself into any electric vehicle, no driver effort required whatsoever. What could be simpler?