New tech helping vision impaired see through others’ eyes

Global Business

A California startup has come up with a new system to help blind people see the world, through someone else’s eyes.

CGTN’s Frances Read explains.

A walk to the grocery store for Robert Stigile always includes guide dog Shuli. Robert lost his vision when he was 18, the result of a degenerative eye disease.

He depends on his canine companion, but now he’s also benefiting from new technology: it looks like a pair of sunglasses.

They actually let Robert borrow eyesight from another person. “It is an incredible experience and a lot of people are starting to use these glasses because things that they’ve never been able to know about before they’re now able to know,” Stigile said.

The glasses have a built-in camera and microphone, connecting to an app on his smart phone, linking him to one of a hundred agents across the U.S. The assistant then describes what’s ahead through a central control room. It’s vision, on demand. 

“If I were to have the agent walk with me they can tell me there are things I might be coming along to on the sidewalk – palm tree branches might be on the ground and I could trip over them not knowing they are there. And the agent could said you’re approaching a very large branch and you’ll want to go out to the right and go around it. Now my dog would probably stop and have me check it out to see what’s there but the agent would tell us that and have us walk around the obstacle that’s in the way. So, it’s really good tool to add to the tool of my guide dog walking me down the street,” Stigile said.

Robert travels all over the country – and he said the technology is particularly useful in new environments. The company that developed the glasses, Aira, said it can help people do everything, from running marathons to enjoying once in a lifetime events.

“Things like having an agent describe someone’s wedding ceremony so the agent could describe everything in the room when the bride walked down the aisle. We have parents who leverage Aira at a soccer game to know what their child is doing on the soccer field or perhaps looking at a homework folder to ensure their child is telling the truth about what they’ve accomplished for the evening,” Jen Perkins is Aira’s CEO.

From everyday tasks to emergency situations, this is fast becoming another essential tool for some people who are blind or have trouble seeing. And while it will never replace Shuli – it adds a new dimension as she guides her owner.