Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

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Photo of Google Glass in use

Brandyn White and Andrew Miller are computer science Ph.D. students and the principals of Dapper Vision, which provides "computer vision consulting and development with a focus on web-scale, mobile, and cloud applications." They are also spearheading, via Dapper Vision, the OpenGlass Project, which is using emerging Google Glass technology to develop applications that can help blind and visually impaired users identify objects and environments via crowd-sourcing technologies and feedback.

About Google Glass: the Basics

Google Glass (pictured at left) is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that is being developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project. Google's mission is to produce a mass-market pervasive computer [i.e., computing that can appear everywhere and anywhere]. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format that can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands.

Here is more information about the Google Glass research and development project from Engadget's comprehensive – and excellent – overview:

…it's not a pair of "Google Glasses," but a single Google Glass headset. Glass has a very simple, clean design that, in some regards, is beautiful and elegant; in others, crude and clumsy. We'll start with the elegant bits, most compelling being the plastic-backed titanium band that sweeps around and forms the frame.

From here, two nose grippers (also titanium) arc down, each one terminating with a clear silicone pad. These pads are replaceable and tacky enough to keep the whole assembly from immediately sliding down your nose.

All the circuitry for the device lies in two plastic housings, one that rests behind your ear (containing the battery and bone conductive speaker) and a second that's up front (with the processor, camera and display assembly). The side of the forward portion is also touch-sensitive, forming a … slender trackpad.

Glass can function with a WiFi or Bluetooth data connection – it is a fully independent device. This means you can leave your phone behind and walk around anywhere with WiFi without losing connection.

The display in Glass is an interesting one. When wearing the headset, you can look straight through the transparent part and barely even see it. It only minimally refracts the light that's beaming toward your eye. But, if you look at it from above, you can clearly see the reflective surface embedded inside at a 45-degree angle, forming the display your eyes see.

The panel itself is off to the right, built into the headset and beaming light into the clear piece from the side, which then hits that sliver of material and reflects into your eye. It's an interesting arrangement and the net result is, indeed, a glowing image that appears to be floating in space. Google says it's "the equivalent of a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away."

The full Engadet review (with photos) describes how to activate Glass; use touch controls and voice commands; and take photos and videos.

About the OpenGlass Project

The OpenGlass Project is using Google Glass technology to develop applications that can help blind and visually impaired users identify objects and environments via established crowd-sourcing technologies.

The following videos demonstrate user trials of two OpenGlass applications in development that can inform blind and visually impaired users about critical features and/or objects in their environments:

  • The first application, called Question-Answer, allows blind and visually impaired users to use Google Glass to take a picture with a question attached, which is sent to "the cloud" for answers from sighted respondents via Twitter or Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform. The answer is read aloud to the user through the bone conduction speaker that is part of the Google Glass headset.
  • The second application, called Memento, automatically recites notes when the blind or visually impaired user faces, or looks at, a recognizable scene. To use Memento, sighted users must first record descriptions or commentary about environmental features or a room setup. When a blind or visually impaired person using Google Glass approaches the same spot, Google Glass will recognize the feature or scene and read back the pre-recorded commentary.

You can view "Testing OpenGlass with Visually Impaired Users" at YouTube.

You can view "Glass Applications for Visually Impaired Users" at YouTube.

The Future of the Open Glass Project

According to Dapper Vision, the OpenGlass applications will remain in limited testing until Google releases Google Glass to the general public. Until then, Dapper Vision is developing a method to reward Question-Answer contributors with BitCoins [i.e., digital currency]. Dapper Vision is also releasing weekly videos to document their progress on the ongoing OpenGlass project.

Assistive Technology
Low Vision
Online Tools
Environmental assessment and modification
There are currently 10 comments

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

This is very exciting technology. My wife has just begun to feel the effects of MD and it has been emotionally distressing for her. As soon as I read about the Google Glass product I started hoping someone would develop a means for Glass to help visually impaired.

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

Hello Hokie1:

This is Maureen Duffy, author of this post. I'm pleased you found this to be encouraging and even hopeful. I'm intrigued by the potential of Google Glass as well.

Can you tell me how you found this post? I'm always intersted in the ways readers connect to vision information.

I also have a follow-up question for you, and I ask this as a low vision specialist and vision rehabilitation therapist. Have you explored low vision services and/or vision rehabilitation services for your wife? Such services can be extremely helpful for adults who are experiencing the onset of macular degeneration.

Here are some links to information on the VisionAware website about these services:

The low vision exam

Vision rehabilitation services

I hope this is helpful.


Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

Maureen, thanks for your reply. I honestly don't know how I got to the site to make my post. I just keep poking around looking for help for my wife.

We have consulted with 3 or 4 different low vision specialists .. mostly they just show us different magnification devices ... nothing earth shattering.

I work in the software development field and have researched many computer-based programs to enlarge text, read text, scan text etc. but they are not very helpful.

The problem with these solutions is the user must do a lot of manual work to use them .... and a person nearly blind can't do that in the first place.

It is frustrating ... but we keep trying.

I wish there were a way I could make more direct contact with you to explore possibilities for my wife.

Thanks for your reply. I'll check back to this blog more often.

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

Hello Hokie1:

Maureen here again. You are welcome to contact me by email to have a more in-depth discussion. I do lots of emailing with readers who have deeper, more specific questions.

My email address is

As a vision rehabilitation therapist and low vision specialist, I have worked with adults with macular degeneration for many years. I'm happy to help if I can.

Best regards,

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

This is some really exciting hardware.

I would be interested to know if the display could be used to 'see' for the user, i.e. take a live visual feed and bring it to the display right in front of the eye, perhaps with the ability to zoom as well.

This would allow people in the initial phase of several progressive retinal dystrophies to get by as well as any visually unimpaired person could.

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

I haven't heard much new news on google glass recently but I keep hoping. I'm off on trying to get Low Vision Rehab support here in Galveston for my wife right now. Her wet MD injections seem to be nearing an end.

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

I am a Learning Support Teacher (studying to become an Assistive Technology Specialist) and am working with a visually impaired student on on-on-one basis. It has been more than a year this article was posted. We had a lot of hopes attached with Google Glass to serve the people who really need it to survive in real life. One and a half year is a lot of time for a gadget to become tested. Also, Google Glass is out of the reach of special needs people. Anyhow, what I have done for this student is that I have made QR coded voice tags and attached them to the articles of daily use. The student can use iPad to scan the code and listen to the audio tag attached. Imagine how many items she needs to use in a day from the kitchen to the bathroom and from her home to the school. I wish they can develop something like this for my VI students, which can also work in the darkness (an infrared camera to read the QR Code). This is what we expect from Google Glass and those who are working to develop the Apps for it. Secondly, the price tag needs to be less than a 3rd for at least those who really need this gadget. Such Apps should be free. There are a number of ways Google can earn profit from.
Another thing we would like the Glass to be capable of is to read a piece of text to the blind or VI, in the light or in darkness, "intelligently". I can write a book on what I mean by 'intelligently' here.
Magnification capability has already been mentioned somewhere.
A sonar ping sensor or Lidar to alert the student about obstacles in the surroundings would be great.
Bluetooth passwords to open electronic door locks / electronic access. A password wallet. Do I hear a GPS?
Let's make it replace the "White Cane" for them too. Fingers crossed!!!

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

Thanks for the interesting reply. Every bit of information I can glean is helpful toward my goal of helping my wife reach some level of normalcy after MD.


Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

I suffer from field of vision loss in one eye and total blindness in the other. Is there any application on Google Glass, or in the works, that could help me?

Re: Google Glass Applications for Blind and Visually Impaired Users

My father suffers from a meningioma that is growing around his optical nerve which causes lack of vision. I heard about how the google glass can help and would love to know any and all information if possible.

The tumor he has, I hear, is rare, doctors do not wan to operate to remove, he has tried medication to try and shrink the tumor to allow blood flow, but nothing is working. Being his daughter, I would love to help in any way I can and ask if there is an open forum or if anyone has had experience or can offer any insight. Thank you!

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