Smart Glasses For Blind 'In Shops By 2016'

Gemma Morris, Sky News Reporter

Pairs of high-tech smart glasses, designed to help millions of blind and partially sighted people to see, could be in shops in 2016.

The specs use a specially adapted 3D camera to maximise a person's remaining vision by separating and highlighting objects ahead.

They were created by researchers at the University of Oxford, who linked up with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to develop them further.

RNIB Solutions managing director Neil Heslop said trialists had experienced extraordinary things while testing the glasses.

He told Sky News: "They've recognised faces, they've avoided obstacles, they've even seen their own guide dogs for the first time."

Participant Iain Cairns was impressed with the glasses, despite saying he felt like Star Trek character Geordi La Forge when wearing them.

He said: "To have something that will help me to keep independent, able to walk to work, to make tea - I think it will make a big difference to my quality of life."

Around 360,000 people in Britain are registered blind or partially sighted.

The RNIB believes the new smart glasses could help as many as 150,000 of those and around 15 million people could benefit worldwide.

At the moment, the glasses are rather bulky. They are also fairly expensive and participants have to carry around a connected laptop with them.

But the project recently won £500,000 from the Google Impact Challenge - a competition to develop tech to transform lives - which means the team can now modify the headset further.

Project leader Dr Stephen Hicks said: "The Google Impact Grant will allow us to make smaller, lighter and cheaper versions that people can carry around.

"It will be powered by something about the size of a mobile phone that can slip into your pocket."

He said nothing like their prototype has ever been made before.

"This is really pushing the limit of what we can do in wearable displays and it's great to be able to have a chance to use this in a way which is potentially going to help millions of people," he said.

Wider trials are soon to get under way and the team hopes to have a smaller version of glasses in shops as early as 2016 with a target price of around £300.