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MIT 'seeing machine' offers hope to blind

top of most eye charts. Most participants, however, had vision that was considered legally blind, meaning they could see nothing smaller than the "big E" on a standard eye chart.

With her weak eye, Goldring can distinguish between light and dark and she can see hand movement, although not individual fingers. She cannot recognize faces or read.

Subjects "had a wide range of cause for vision loss, including diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration (the fastest growing cause of blindness), and visual field loss," said Cavallerano, a coauthor of the paper and another of Goldring's doctors.

Participants used the machine to view 10 examples of Goldring's visual language. A majority - six - interpreted all 10 "word-images" correctly. "They responded really well to the visual language," Goldring said. "One woman told me she would love to see recipes written that way."

They also used the machine to navigate through a virtual environment, raising the potential for "previewing" unfamiliar buildings a person wants to visit.

Goldring explained that visually challenged people are often terrified of going to new places. "There's a fear of missing simple visual cues, steps and not being able to decipher elevator buttons." (She noted that less than 10 percent of the blind read Braille.) Further, bystanders who aim to help - "there are five steps there; it's the third door on the left" - are often wrong, especially people with good vision, Goldring said. "If you are visually challenged, if you see something once using the machine, you remember."

Participants explored the virtual environment - which represented the inside of an MIT building - via a joystick that allowed them to move forward, backward and sideways.

All of the participants reported that the machine "may have the potential to assist their mobility in unfamiliar environments," according to the Optometry article. Concluded Goldring: "A couple of them said they'd
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Source:Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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