AI-powered spectacles for the visually-impaired

DG J Sridhar interacting with a beneficiary.
DG J Sridhar interacting with a beneficiary.

In a novel outreach to improve the lives of visually-impaired, RC Madras East, RID 3232, has launched Project Drishti which provides a pair of smart vision spectacles (SVS) to 300 beneficiaries in the first phase. The SVS uses a combination of AI-powered glasses and mobile connection to navigate, read and do more. With generous contributions from members and well-wishers, the club has raised ₹75 lakh for this project.

An elated club president M ­Srinivasa Rao said, “I am heartened to see contributions flowing into service projects. This has made us determined in our journey to realise our dreams to serve to change lives.” Project Drishti will drastically change the lives of the visually-impaired with these smart glasses, noted DG J Sridhar, and said the club has already been approached by several other clubs from different parts of the country.

The idea of embedding a software into a pair of glasses isn’t new says, Ramu Muthangi, CEO of Smart Health Global, a Bengaluru-based IT company that designed the AI-powered spectacles. Accrediting the success of the SVS to the firm’s technical prowess and its collaboration with Rotary and Boston-based NGO, Vision Aid, he said, “we want these special glasses to reach those in need as we are not looking for profit.”

From R: Project coordinator Radhika Sathyanarayana; Ramu Muthangi, CEO of Smart Health Global; club secretary Magesh Pattabhiraman; club president M Srinivasa Rao and Dr Vijayalakshmi, head of Vision  Rehabilitation Centre at the Aravind Eye Hospital, along with beneficiaries.
From R: Project coordinator Radhika Sathyanarayana; Ramu Muthangi, CEO of Smart Health Global; club secretary Magesh Pattabhiraman; club president M Srinivasa Rao and Dr Vijayalakshmi, head of Vision
Rehabilitation Centre at the Aravind Eye Hospital, along with beneficiaries.

Through the mobile App, the SVS will guide the visually-impaired with constant inputs. “The interaction occurs over Wi-Fi or mobile data with the spectacles conveying the series of information to the wearer through speech output fitted on the glasses,” said Muthangi. The device is fitted with two pen drive-like cases on the arms that rest on the ears. The left case has a camera with a flash that captures images within two metres, identifies objects and warns of the obstacles in front and around, in order to make walking hassle-free. The device will also read documents in 73 regional languages, recognise friends through facial expressions, find their belongings, and help the wearer to use public transport.

One of the beneficiaries, 21-year-old Arivalagan, an MA English student from Chennai, said he is able to move around confidently and listen to English texts, thanks to SVS. The hi-fi glasses will “help me with my lessons and read more of my favourite author Stephen King’s novels,” he smiles. For Thenmozhi, “being the only child, my parents worry about my future. With SVS I will pass the UPSC exams. This spectacle will secure my future which will make my parents happy.”

Visually-impaired sisters with their SVS kits.
Visually-impaired sisters with their SVS kits.

Aravind Eye Hospital (AEH) validated the utility of the smart glasses. “This wasn’t the first time we are partnering with Rotary,” said Dr P Vijayalakshmi, chief paediatric ophthalmologist and head of Vision Rehabilitation Centre at AEH. A research team led by Dr Flora ­Jeyaseeli at AEH, Madurai, found that the mobility of people with low vision and visually-impaired had improved with the use of SVS. “The prototype was tried on 50 patients over the last 10 months and the feedback from them helped to tweak the model to optimum weight, size, shape and use,” added
Dr Vijayalakshmi.

Dr Aravind Srinivasan, director, AEH, Chennai, said the SVS’ hardware is aesthetically designed so that the wearer feels comfortable using it all through the day. “The software is being constantly updated with database of objects and scenes to enable the AI engine to keep learning,” he said and hoped the device may be “justifiably viewed as a new way of seeing the world for the visually-impaired.”

Magesh Pattabhiraman, club secretary, said that every service project is planned a year-and-half in advance. “The reason all our projects are sustainable is our ability raise funds, to recognise responsible stakeholders who actively participate in all stages of the project,” he added.

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