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IBM is developing smart glasses for the visually impaired

IBM has made no secret of its involvement in the medical field, having bought out a clinical data company only a few days ago, but never mentioned that it’s actively developing equipment for patients. A patent application released as part of its latest batch of filings to have reached their disclosure date reveals the design of a pair of smart glasses meant to help the visually impaired navigate their surroundings.

Because it’s designed to supplement rather than augment the user’s vision, the frame doesn’t have one camera like conventional wearables such as Google Glass but rather two to support both eyes. There’s also a range sensor that determines the distance of the objects in view for the onboard software that handles the video input.

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The main purpose of the firmware is synchronizing the feed from the cameras to your smartphone or tablet, which in turn passes on the data to the cloud where an object recognition service is able to scan the capture for objects of interest. IBM didn’t say what service will do the analysis, but it’s probably one of the new hosted incarnations of Watson that it’s been trying to push on hospitals lately.

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That intelligent backend will enable the wearer to request the name of an object by pointing at it, at which point the relevant information will be communicated back over a microphone installed a specialized belt wrapped around their waist. It also includes electrodes that applies a shock when you’re about to run into an obstacle or uneven terrain.

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It’s not exactly the most elegant setup, but IBM seems to believe that it will do the trick. Besides, the patent request for the glasses was originally submitted almost a year and a half ago, plenty of time to make improvements that will no doubt reveal themselves in future applications. Stay tuned.

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