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Stephen Hicks, Research Fellow in Neuroscience and Visual Prosthetics, has won the 2014 SET for BRITAIN Gold Award and Engineering Medal

Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, with Dr Stephen Hicks at the exhibition
Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, with Dr Stephen Hicks at the exhibition

SET for BRITAIN is a series of poster competitions and exhibitions run by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in the House of Commons. Its main purpose is to encourage, support and promote Britain’s early-career research scientists. This year’s exhibition and reception took place in the House of Commons Terrace Marquee on 17 March 2014 during National Science and Engineering Week.

The judges considered 120 posters in the five fields of Biomedical Science, Chemistry, Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics. They awarded the prizes based on the very best research work and results by an early-stage or early-career researcher together with their ability to communicate their work to a lay audience.

Dr Hicks is based in the OcuLab research group in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and also works closely with the Department of Engineering. His work, primarily funded by the National Institute for Health Research, aims to improve functional vision for people with severely impaired sight.

Over 300,000 people in the UK are registered as blind. Stephen Hicks and colleagues are developing a pair of smart-glasses to help people use their remaining vision to see and avoid obstacles and enjoy increased independence. Using computer vision and electronic components usually found in mobile phones, the researchers are building and testing concepts which they intend to use to construct an affordable pair of glasses. The smart-glasses comprise a camera to sense the environment and a digital display to show an enhanced view.

The latest prototype glasses use a depth camera which measures the distance to nearby objects, a little like radar. The researchers have developed algorithms that build, process and update 3D models of the local environment in essentially real time. Nearby objects are shown as bright regions of light and distant objects or clear paths are shown as dark. The ­floor plane is detected in order to emphasise trip hazards and steps.

The lenses are Organic Light Emitting Diodes that show an enhanced image to the wearer while appearing transparent to everyone else. This allows the eyes to be seen, which is important for social interaction.

User testing has shown that the glasses currently in development are already helping registered blind people to have a better ability to detect potential obstacles in their environment.

This SET for BRITAIN Gold Award and Engineering Medal comes on top of the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation won by Stephen Hicks in 2013.

Download Stephen Hicks’ SET for BRITAIN 2014 poster ‘Smart glasses to help the blind to see’.

You can find more information about this research at the Oxford Smart Specs Research Group website.