Google Glass corrective1“Give a kid a hammer, and the whole world looks like a nail.”

When it comes to tools, people don’t always use them for their intended purpose. These “off label” applications can result in some startling benefits, however. Consider the experiments conducted by two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. In a paper presented at the SID Display Week 2014 in San Diego, they demonstrated how Google Glass can be used to correct some vision impairments.

The study focused on using computer image edge enhancement to help patients see better. The three photos above are from the paper “Augmented Edge Enhancement for Vision Impairment using Google Glass” by Alex D. Hwang and Eli Peli. The first photo (a) shows how a scene with objects might appear when viewed with Google Glass by a person with normal vision. The second photo (b) simulates the same scene as viewed by someone with impaired vision. The third photo (c) demonstrates how edge detection can be used to augment the image displayed by Google Glass. By aligning the modified image with the real world image, the viewer can see the objects with more clarity.

The researchers found that there are limits to the benefits of this effect. If you take the image enhancement too far, it can make it more difficult to recognize the objects. On the other hand, they found that Google Glass was able to perform the required processing — including making corrections for camera distortion — fast enough to create the enhanced images in real time.

The take-away from this research is that off-the-shelf consumer wearable technology could provide low cost and effective ways of treating a variety of health problems and impairments. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what lightweight and powerful computing and display devices can do to help patients.