But although the SLO held promise for the broader blind public, it had serious drawbacks including its prohibitive cost. Goldring determined to develop a more practical, accessible machine.
She began collaborating with people such as Rob Webb, the SLO's inventor and a senior scientist at the Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard University, and dozens of MIT students. Those involved in the current machine are Yifei Wu, an MIT senior who began the work as a freshman and has been instrumental in developing the seeing-machine camera; Brandon Taylor, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab; and Quinn Smithwick, a postdoctoral associate in the same lab.
The portable device is relatively inexpensive in part because it replaces the laser of the SLO with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), another source of high-intensity light that is much cheaper.
Further, "everything in it is already mass-produced for other purposes," said Taylor. He also noted that since the seeing-machine project began, "LCDs and other components have gotten much smaller and are readily available."
The portable seeing machine is about five inches square and mounted on a flexible tripod that makes it easy to carry. A digital camera is attached to the top. The visual feed from the camera travels into the seeing machine to a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) illuminated by LEDs. (This is the same kind of LCD common in cameras and TVs.)
The visual data is then focused into a single "point" that travels into the eye. "This is not magnification," said Smithwick. "What makes this work is focusing the data into a tiny spot of light."
What's next? Goldring aims to show the new machine to other visually challenged people and looks forward to their feedback. Plans are underway to test it at the Low Vision Clinic at the Joslin Diabetes Center's Beetham Eye Institute in Boston.
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology