A nondescript head-mounted display could soon spell fewer bumps and bruises for people with moderate visual impairment, thanks to researchers from the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. Using a special algorithm, a team from the department of electronics technology adapted a pair of virtual-reality goggles into a device for navigating one’s surroundings. Equipped with a pair of micro-monitors, the headgear communicates the outlines of oncoming objects to its user in real time, using color to denote distance.

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“This device is aimed at people who would bump into everything that they fail to see because of their loss of visual field, caused by glaucoma, retinal pathologies, etc.,” Ricardo Vergaz, head of the project, says in a statement. “It detects objects and people who move within the visual field that a person with no visual pathologies would have. Very often the patient does not detect them due to problems of contrast.”

The ultimate goal is to develop a pocket-size mechanism that’s both lightweight and easy to use.

The prototype is currently at the Universidad de Valladolid, where clinical tests are being conducted in collaboration with the Instituto de Oftalmología Aplicada to determine its validity and applicability. The results, due at the end of the year, will allow the researchers to improve upon the design, as well as adjust its ergonomics so the user isn’t encumbered by the device.

Their ultimate goal is to develop a pocket-size mechanism that’s both lightweight and easy to use. Not all retinal pathologies result in complete blindness, says Vergaz. The system could help hundreds of thousands of people in Spain alone.

The project is part of a line of research dedicated to the design, development, and innovation of new technologies aimed at the handicapped. Another device in the works is a virtual magnifying glass that makes reading easier for people with visual loss in the central field of vision, such as those who suffer from age-related macular degeneration.

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+ Universidad Carlos III in Madrid