DISCLAIMER: This is currently just a company idea, the company doesn’t yet exist.
Let’s look at some statistics on blindness before we begin. More than 1.1 million are legally blind and an additional 50,000 people lose their sight each year. The visually impaired, including those who are blind, total more than 3.6 million Americans. Or let’s think about it on a smaller scale, every 4 school children, there is 1 of them that has a serious vision problem. Normal esight glasses that help improve vision costs around 10,000$ but why don’t we provide these glasses that only cost around 500–600 dollars?
So let’s back up, you’re saying a group of teenagers wants to help restore vision to the blind for a few hundred dollars?
And the answer to that question is yes. That’s exactly what we want to achieve and here is how we’re going to do it.
Most people think of blindness in the simplest terms: a person who can’t see. In actuality, blindness is more complex. In fact, there are many different types of blindness and visual impairment.
Some blind people truly see nothing, while others see light, shadows or objects that are close by. Vision loss can start at birth or gradually decline. Blindness can stem from a problem with the eye itself or be caused by a disorder in the brain.
Different types of blindness can affect anyone: you, your parents, a friend, your child or anyone else.
The prevalence of legal blindness is estimated to increase from 1,082,790 in 2017 to 2,111,637 in 2050 which is why we believe this is going to make a huge impact on the world.
Our main target is those that can’t see anything at all, although we also plan for people with just very bad vision. We’re using an AI program called YOLO to detect objects in the world with a live feed from a camera and use Brain Computer Interfaces, which are devices that allow communication between a computer and your brain, to send that information to the brain allowing the user to easily know where these objects are.
But what’s YOLO, and why are you using it if you guys already have a camera?
Well, YOLO (stands for You Only Look Once) is a real-time object detection algorithm, which is one of the most effective object detection algorithms. The algorithm looks at the images requiring only one pass through the image to make predictions for objects, hence the name of course. Afterwards, it then outputs recognized objects together with bounding boxes to show where and what objects are.
Why are we using YOLO if we are already using a camera? It is because we plan on using object detection so we can better help the blind identify what everything is, since many have been blind for most of their lives and might need some guidance on what is what. YOLO helps eliminate that problem by telling them what the object is.
Furthermore, we could augment their vision in other ways, since really what we are doing is sending a processed video feed to the brain, so we could create other quality of life measures as well, like combining object detection and an web searching API to essentially allow you to look up things that you are looking at, with something like google image search. This is probably the craziest thing you have heard, but it will be possible, sooner than you would think! And this brings us to the next part of the plan, using Brain Computer Interfaces to actually send data to the brain.
What’s a Brain Computer Interface and how are you going to implement it?
Well, simply put, Brain Computer Interfaces (or BCIs) are devices that take in information from the brain and send the info to a computer and vice versa. The computer can do a range of things with that data, like graphing brain waves or controlling prosthetics.
If you are wondering how we can get this data, we could use something like neural lace, which is an ultra-thin mesh, made of a body of electrodes which can collect data from the brain, by detecting brain activity. Neural Lace is from Elon Musk’s company Neuralink and the technology is well on its way to allow some control over the human brain, and by connecting the YOLO technology to an interface like this, we can help restore vision to the blind.
Currently brain computer interfaces are actually not able to achieve something of the manner that we are trying to, they simply are not advanced enough yet. However Neural Lace will be changing that once it comes out, and will allow us to achieve a level of vision restoration, which, as the technology gets even more advanced, will allow this vision restoration to get better and better.
Is this something only you are working on?
Many companies are working to help the blind like we are, however many of these companies have some flaws our version solves. For example, one company uses a device, whenever contacted with concentrated light, fires a neuron allowing the eye to see.
However this process is very inefficient since the information doesn’t go straight to the brain like ours, leaving out people whose problem doesn’t reside in the eye itself, it has to take many steps, plus it is very bulky.
Our design allows people who have a problem not in the eye but the optic nerve or brain to be able to see again, as we augment the brain, and because of YOLO and the approach we took with BCI, it takes a minimal amount of steps, and is quite lightweight.
This technology can be developed soon, we think within 5–10 years. Recently, a paralyzed brazilian man using similar tech was able to regain their sense of touch, and way back in 1978, a prototype with a BCI containing 68 arrays was implanted to a person’s visual cortex and succeeded in producing phosphenes, the sensation of seeing light. Another recent event in the field is where researchers are trying to restore vision to monkeys using similar methods to ours and make them navigate a maze.
This goes to show the value of the technology, and how close we are to turning blindness from a condition that ruins or hinders millions of lives, to something that we can not only target and help with, but cure.
If you enjoyed reading this article or have any suggestions or questions, let me know by leaving a comment below. You can find me on LinkedIn for my latest updates, or check out my latest projects on my website. See what I’m up to on my newsletter. If you want to check out the co-founders mediums, see here and here. Thanks for reading!