While it may look like something out of a sci-fi movie, a device called Smart Specs – developed by a startup called VA-ST – may help the legally blind to see better.

The glasses basically use a depth sensor to highlight nearby objects and figures, simplifying their features and drawing them out. They have four modes, allowing users to choose between seeing the world in black, white, and gray, offering different degrees of detail. They also have a color mode.

Most people classified as legally blind retain some vision — but they may, however, not be able to make out certain objects. That's where Smart Specs comes in.

VA-ST has begun a study of the glasses, loaning out prototypes with an attached controller to 300 people, all of whom have eye conditions and varying levels of vision. The controller box will record which settings participants prefer and when they use the different settings. Coupled with data from the accelerometer, the team behind the glasses will be able to determine exactly how people with different vision impairments utilize the glasses.

Using the information from the study to appropriately tweak the glasses, the company hopes to begin selling the headset next year for under $1,000 per pair.

Currently, the glasses include a pair of Epson Moverio Augmented Reality glasses, paired with an Asus device that combines a standard camera and a depth-sensing camera. The device straps onto the wearer's head, and connects to a box that has a few controls and a computer running on Android. Though the box is certainly chunky, it's smaller than the previous prototype, which connected to a laptop computer instead of this Android-run box.

To convey depth, the glasses provide more detail to things that are closer to the wearer. Someone standing nearby would be seen as having the outlines of facial features, and people standing father away would simply be shown as gray. The background is completely black.

"Walking into a restaurant or a bar, the lighting changes so dramatically that no one can see at all," said Stephen Hicks, a co-founder of VA-ST.

Of course, the headset still has a ways to go. The bulk of the glasses could stand to be slimmed down, and while the wearer will see the background as completely blacked out, it may help to include important information such as a door. 

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