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Subspecialties Comprehensive, Health Economics and Policy

Good Vibrations

A close-up of the image processing unit of the wearable collision device. Credit: Mass Eye and Ear.
Gang Luo, associate scientist at the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass Eye and Ear, and an associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, displays the camera on the strap of wearable collision device. The camera is connected to a processing unit that captures images and analyzes collision risk based on the relative movement of incoming and surrounding objects. Credit: Mass Eye and Ear.

People who are visually impaired are now more independent and active than ever – but is there a way to also make them safer than ever? A randomized trial of 31 blind and visually impaired adults, conducted at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, showed that a new wearable warning device reduced collisions by 37 percent compared with using a long cane, a guide dog, or both.

The device uses a wide-angle chest-mounted camera and two wristbands with a Bluetooth connection. Image-based data from the camera are used to calculate collision risk on the right, left, or head-on; when an obstacle is detected, the appropriate wristbands vibrate, letting the user know to move out of the way. Thanks to a novel computer vision algorithm that analyzes relative motion, the device can ignore nearby objects not on a collision course, making life on the go safer for people with vision impairments.

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  1. S Pundlik et al., JAMA Ophthalmol, [Online ahead of print] (2021). PMID: 34292298.
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