Eyeglasses with embedded telescope help visually impaired to drive

July 28, 2008 -- Scientists at the Schepens Eye Research Institute (Boston, MA) say that a pair of eyeglasses with an integrated telescope will make it easier for people with impaired vision to drive and do other activities requiring sharper distance vision.

"This new design has several advantages," says the inventor of the glasses, Dr. Eli Peli , who is a senior scientist at Schepens, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and a low vision expert. "One major advantage is the appearance of the glasses. Because they look almost like normal everyday spectacles, it is more likely that visually impaired people will use them," says Peli.

He notes that the glasses are easier to use than existing telescope models because of a wider magnified view and easier access to that view. More importantly, shifting the magnified view up leaves the unmagnified view of the road unobstructed, which is important for safety and facilitates navigation.

Tiny telescopes mounted on glasses (known as bioptics) have been in existence for about 60 years. They are permitted for use in driving by 39 states. They enable a visually impaired driver to read road signs and see other objects essential for safe driving, while also viewing the larger scene in front of the vehicle. In previous designs, the telescope is mounted through the top of the regular lens or above the frame. In both cases, the telescopic eyepiece is above the wearer's pupil, requiring the driver to tilt his/her head up and down rapidly to view alternatively the magnified and unmagnified scenes. Drivers use the telescope only for a very small fraction of the driving time, looking through the regular spectacle lens most of the time.

While these bioptics are useful and helpful, many potential users have resisted them because of their strange appearance, and because the magnified view through the telescope is narrow.

In the newer glasses, Peli and co-inventor Dr. Vargas-Martin from the University of Murcia, Spain, designed a wide-field telescope made of straight and curved mirrors built completely within the spectacle lens.

Peli and his team created and tested various prototypes of telescopes leading to the design that would be most effective and comfortable for patients with low vision. Says Peli, "The short height of the actual magnifier, its position, and inclusion of a small tilt of the last flat mirror (the one closest to the user's eye), enables the wearer to simultaneously view the magnified field above the unmagnified view of the uninterrupted horizontal field.

The telescopic glasses may also be of interest to hunters, police or military personnel who would like the ability to quickly and easily achieve a hands-free magnified view.

The scientists' work is described further in the Journal of Biomedical Optics. Schepens Eye Research Institute is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and is reportedly the largest independent eye research institute in the USA.

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