FlowVision: A low cost vision aid

Design team members: Theresa Cooke, Peter Schretlen

Supervisor: Prof. Eric Kubica

Background

Although we often take our vision for granted, it is quite likely to deteriorate over the course of our lives due to disease, injury, the ageing process, and hereditary factors. The degree to which vision is impaired ranges from slight, correctable impairments to complete blindness. People who retain a certain level of visual ability are said to have "low vision."

Technology to help people with low-vision is available today - but at a price. Existing electronic vision aids, primarily providing magnification for reading on a flat surface, cost anywhere from $1000 to$5000.

The major drawback of today's low-vision aids is that they are too expensive for their target market. A large proportion of the market for low vision devices consists of people over the age of 65, who have little disposable income to buy such costly tools, however useful they may be. The goal of this workshop project is to create an electronic vision aid that is affordable for a greater number of potential users.

Project description

The workshop problem statement is: "To design and prototype a low-cost system that enhances images for people with low vision."

Specifically, FlowVision will consist of a web camera connected to a PC. It will enhance images by increase the contrast of important features, making it easier for someone with low vision to recognise them. Additional functionality such as digital zoom and reverse polarity will also be provided to assist with recognition. The system will be able to produce an enhanced series of grayscale or colour stills based on digital colour video input.

As an example, consider the simple case of a low-contrast receipt, shown below. The details of items and prices are difficult for someone with normal vision to perceive. Various image- processing techniques can be applied to enhance the contrast of this image and make the details much clearer. The enhanced image is shown on the right. FlowVision will make it easier to perform many other daily tasks, such as reading application forms, phone messages, prescription bottles with instructions, or bills to pay.

Design methodology

The FlowVision design process consists of five steps: Preliminary Design, which results in a problem statement, objectives, and high-level design criteria; development & detailed design, which results in a working prototype; Optimisation, during which the prototype will be tested and tuned; Evaluation, during which user testing and validation will occur; and Communication, at which time the results of the project will be published and presented. Phase One was completed on October 1st and Phase Two is scheduled for completion on January 1st.