5 Emerging Technologies that Promise to Improve the Lives of the Visually Impaired

While vision loss can be one of the most challenging impairments for individuals to live with, recent advances in technology are helping many sufferers to live more comfortably and independently than ever. 

Thanks to technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and internet of things devices, it’s now possible for the blind and visually impaired to access far better navigational tools and the prompts they need to live their daily lives without unnecessary difficulty. 

Although these advanced technologies are cropping up regularly with fresh use cases and more pioneering functions, much new hardware and software is still in its infancy, and it’s unclear how it will mature to bring new standards in healthcare services surrounding the vision of patients. 

With this in mind, let’s take a deeper look at five emerging technologies, and explore how they’re paving the way for improvements in the daily lives of the visually impaired. 

1. Braille Smartwatches

Smartwatches promise to bring unprecedented access for the visually impaired to a range of features that would otherwise be impossible to use. In Braille-based smartwatches like Dot, users can not only tell the time whenever they’re out and about, they can also utilize onboard cameras and OCR software to hear text read out loud when on the go. 

The braille display utilized by Dot smartwatches offers blind or low-vision wearers the ability to access many features that will be familiar on similar wearables like the Apple Watch. They can receive text messages and caller ID via Braille, and control their smartphones at the touch of a button. 

Smartwatch manufacturer, Dot, has even begun working on Braille displays for public installation, helping to make the world more accessible for those living with visual impairments. 

2. AI Walking Sticks

Another exciting development in the field of assistive hardware is the recent development of a specialized AI walking stick, that’s capable of analyzing real-world environments and guiding users through busy areas like supermarkets or restaurants. 

Although the walking stick, developed by engineers at CU Boulder in the United States takes the appearance of a typical cane, an embedded camera and computer vision technology has made the device intelligent enough to map out and catalog the world around it. Then, through AI, it can guide users with vibrations or audio prompts. 

“AI and computer vision are improving, and people are using them to build self-driving cars and similar inventions,” said Shivendra Agrawal, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science at CU Boulder. “But these technologies also have the potential to improve the quality of life for many people.”

3. Touchscreen Braille

Although the world is increasingly becoming more digital, Braille remains one of the most efficient ways for the visually impaired to communicate with one another. Although it can be difficult for existing technology to convert digital inputs into physical interfaces, there are a growing number of devices that are capable of reproducing Braille characters in real-time, paving the way for better access to information, online browsing, and communicating with friends. 

This can be a great means of empowering blind and low-vision individuals to continue living a full life even though they may have short-term or irreversible damage to their vision. The greater accommodation of technology that supports Braille can also help individuals who are unable to access healthcare or are yet to explore their options and find a store to discuss the right health insurance plan for a prospective procedure.

At present, touchscreen Braille can be difficult for users to access. Based on many moving parts, the devices themselves can cost thousands of dollars to buy, but as the technology continues to develop, it’s hoped that these entry costs can shrink. 

4. Smart Contact Lenses

Researchers in South Korea have developed a technology for smart contact lenses that rely on an innovative combination of augmented reality and 3D printing

The team created an effective printing strategy that produces ink-based micro-patterns as a navigation function within the lens itself. In testing the device, the lenses could display directions to a destination for the wearer through the use of GPS coordinates delivered in real time. 

This innovation can be particularly effective for users with visual impairments like cataracts intent on carrying out daily tasks by viewing clear guidance when navigating real-world environments. 

5. Assistive Apps

There has been a range of assistive apps created to aid visually impaired users, but among the leaders in their field is Microsoft’s Seeing AI. 

The app empowers users to experience the world around them and to carry out tasks like viewing documents, interacting with everyday items, and recognizing friends and family. 

One of the app’s most popular features revolves around reading currency, which has been a particular hit when it comes to users paying for items with cash at the supermarket or any other store. The app would allow users to scan a bill using their app and hear the total cost of their purchase, which can help them to buy goods more efficiently. 

Although the world of visual assistance technology is still at its early stages, the emergence of AI, augmented reality, and 3D printing is likely to help deliver more physical help for those suffering from a range of impairments. 

Should AI reach its lofty potential, it’s likely to pave the way for countless individuals to enjoy their lives to the fullest without being impacted by their vision.