MIT develops portable device, gives visually impaired hope

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MIT develops portable device, gives visually impaired hope

Boston (MA) – Elizabeth Goldring, a senior fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, is visually impaired. That hasn’t stopped her (and her MIT fellows), however, from developing smaller sized versions of seeing machines which let the visually impaired “see” what everyone else takes for granted.

Goldring became interested on this type of seeing machine technology over 20 years ago. Her and her colleagues began working on a large diagnostic machine, said to cost around $100,000. It has since been condensed into more of a desktop version, costing about $4,000. And now, a portable unit costing just under $500 has also been developed.

The portable device consists of the visual imaging unit itself, along with an attached digital camera providing “the eye” for the portable device. The device, as a whole, is about five inches square and mounts on a flexible tripod. The attached camera sends the live feed it sees through its lens from the seeing machine into a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) which is illuminated by LEDs. This data is then focused into a single point, which travels into the eye of the visually impaired individual to reproduce the associated image as others might see it without the device.

The original technology behind this idea made use of a scanning laser opthalmoscope, or SLO, which projected an image directly into the eye’s retina – past hemorrhages which contributed to blindness. Cost was a factor in using this technology however. As such, the MIT staff soon replaced the SLO’s laser with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as another source of high-intensity light, and one that is much cheaper.