August 22, 2006.
A new technology is helping the blind to see.
The "seeing machine" is being developed at M.I.T by a woman with a unique perspective.
Elizabeth Goldring has virtually no sight in her right eye and very little in her left.
But with the seeing machine, Goldring said, "That's very clear."
Goldring is not an engineer.
She's a poet and artist at M.I.T.'s Center For Advanced Visual Studies.
With the help of scientists and students, she's developing the seeing machine.
"To enable people who are blind or severely visually challenged to have the experience of seeing," said Goldring. "It allows people to see a face, a word, to tour a building."
How does it work?
A light emitting diode projects an image onto the small part of her retina that still works.
"It's going directly to the part that can see," said Goldring.
The "seeing machine" is a scaled down version of a very elaborate and very expensive diagnostic tool used to gauge the condition of the retina.
The M.I.T. team has taken that equipment and brought it down in both size and cost.
Goldring has even developed a "visual language" combining letters and graphics and they're experimenting with using the machine to allow someone to "visit" a building.
"I'm hoping that eventually there will be a whole internet library of visual experiences that are accessible to people who don't see," said Goldring.
Goldring also wants the seeing machine to include her sensibilities as an artist.
"For example you could see a rose," she said. "It's beautiful to have the experience of seeing a rose. Is it necessary? Well, maybe."
The team at M.I.T. has reduced the cost of building a seeing machine to below $4,000.
They're hoping mass production will drop the price even more and that one day soon it will be on the market.
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