Assistive Devices

Humans have six primary senses: Touch, taste, smell, auditory, visual, and vestibular. Of these, vision and touch are arguably the most important, with the sense of sound perhaps coming third. Senses can be lost through disease or trauma, or in the case of smell/taste through smoking.

Since the 1970’s there have been cochlear prosthetics available to the 1:3000 babies who are born deaf. In the past few years, the first generations of retinal prosthetics have become available to the 1:3000 people who face blindness through a disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa.

However, there is a further consideration, which is cost. In order to pay back their R&D costs, the first generation of retinal prosthetics are $100k per eye. This is a considerable sum, and for many healthcare providers or individuals may be beyond affordability for the given level of visual return. Furthermore, there are many conditions which can cause partial sensory loss for which would negate the use of full prosthetic systems.

As such, we can introduce two concepts:

Augmented Vison: Using computational power to pre-interpret the visual scene before passing an augmented version to the individual. In particular, for low vision, image contrast is as important as visual acuity. As such, cartoonisation functions which remove unnecessary information can improve the effective contrast of the visual scene and thus the capacity of the individual to recognise key features.

Sensory substitution: Converting information from one sense to another can allow individuals to recognise concepts in a different way. For example The seeingwithsound vOICe system provides auditory feedback to allow a form of bat like vision to the user. Similarly, the Orcam system provides text to speech reading directly from glasses. Such systems can be particularly useful to those with macular degenerations. We have also been exploring these concepts for the fully blind with the HapticVision project, which aims to explore to what extent images can be provides to blind people through the sense of touch.


  • Al-Atabany WI, et al., Designing and testing scene enhancement algorithms for patients with retina degenerative disorders. BioMedical Engineering Online 2010, 9, 27.

  • Al-Atabany W, et. al. Improved content aware scene retargeting for retinitis pigmentosa patients. BioMedical Engineering OnLine 2010, 9, 52.

  • 2018 Walid Al-Atabany, Musa Al Yaman, and Patrick Degenaar "Visible/IR imaging spectrum for maximizing scene perception in retinal prosthesis" Journal of Healthcare Engineering, Volume 2018 (2018), Article ID 349382