Researchers from the University of Washington have developed a wearable computer that helps people with low vision see potential obstacles.

The device tracks objects as a person walks, and when it detects that something is in the way, a retinal scanning display projects a bright icon directly onto the user’s retina. The icon indicates the general location of the hazard.

The system can help low-vision people get around. It also paves the way for other types of systems for low-vision people, according to the researchers. Optical character readers could be used to read text and present it on the display, or a GPS system could be used to help give navigation directions, for instance.

The researchers’ device uses a laptop computer that can be carried in a backpack and a head-mounted system that includes an infrared camera that tracks objects and the display that projects a laser through a vibrating fiber to scan a 100-by-40-pixel image onto the user’s retina. Different icons can be used for different hazards.

A better, less expensive system will be practical in three to five years, according to the researchers. The researchers presented the work at the Society for Information Display (SIDS) International Symposium 2004 in Seattle, Washington, May 23 to 28.

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