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MIT 'seeing machine' offers hope to blind

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--An MIT poet has developed a small, relatively inexpensive "seeing machine" that can allow people who are blind, or visually challenged like her, to access the Internet, view the face of a friend, "previsit" unfamiliar buildings and more.

Recently the machine received positive feedback from 10 visually challenged people with a range of causes for their vision loss who tested it in a pilot clinical trial. The work was reported in Optometry, the Journal of the American Optometric Association, earlier this year.

The work is led by Elizabeth Goldring, a senior fellow at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies. She developed the machine over the last 10 years, in collaboration with more than 3O MIT students and some of her personal eye doctors. The new device costs about $4,000, low compared to the $100,000 price tag of its inspiration, a machine Goldring discovered through her eye doctor.

Goldring's adventures at the intersection of art and high technology began with a visit to her doctor, Lloyd Aiello, head of the Beetham Eye Institute of the Joslin Diabetes Center. At the time, Goldring was blind. (Surgeries have since restored vision in one eye).

To better examine her eyes, Aiello asked her to go to the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard, where technicians peered into her eyes with a diagnostic device known as a scanning laser opthalmoscope, or SLO. With the machine they projected a simple image directly onto the retina of one eye, past the hemorrhages within the eye that contributed to her blindness. The idea was to determine whether she had any healthy retina left.

It turns out that she did, and was able to see the image - a stick figure of a turtle. But the turtle wasn't very interesting, Goldring said. So she asked if they could write the word "sun" and transmit that through the SLO. "And I could see it!" she said. "That was the first time in several months that I'd seen a word, and for a poet tha
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
23-May-2006


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