University of Oxford wins e-Legacy Medical Advances Award 2012

10 October 2012

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Dr Stephen Hicks from the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of Oxford has been honoured by winning the Medical Advances category of the 2012 e-Legacy Awards, for the Smart Specs application. Hicks and his team are developing Smart Specs or LED glasses, using NI hardware and software technology to improve the quality of life and promote the independence of people with serious visual impairments.

It is a common misconception that blindness refers to the complete inability to see. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines blindness as severe sight loss, preventing someone from discerning how many fingers are held up at a distance of 3m, even with the use of glasses or lenses. Therefore, someone who is registered as blind may still have some degree of residual vision and most can detect changes in contrast.

Smart Specs acquire video feeds from head-mounted cameras and process the data to identify nearby obstacles. The data is relayed to the user via a bank of LEDs, taking advantage of the individual’s ability to detect changes in contrast. The final product will cost about the same as a modern smartphone, much less than a fully trained guide dog.

The specs were developed using National Instruments LabVIEW and the NI Vision Development Module, which provided ready-to-run analysis functions and drivers for acquiring, displaying and logging images, allowing raw data to be acquired with little development effort. These images are processed inline, using pattern matching and optical character recognition to identify objects worth highlighting to the individual.

Describing why he chose LabVIEW system design software, Hicks says: “I have been an avid LabVIEW developer for more than 10 years, and have found that no other Application Development Environment offers such fast and flexible software development and debugging.”

The e-Legacy Awards, now in their sixth year, celebrate the innovation of electronics companies and are voted for by readers of Electronic Product Design to reward the contribution that entrants make preserving the environment and improving the communities in which we live and work. To see all the winners of 2012 e-Legacy Awards, go to

Hicks was also awarded the Application of the Year for his paper in the National Instruments UK & Ireland 2011 Graphical System Design Achievement Awards. Each year, NI showcases the most exciting user applications in industry, teaching and research, as authors submit their most innovative solution using NI technology to meet complex engineering and science challenges.

The 2012 Graphical System Design Achievement Awards will take place on 19 November at Savoy Place, London. Finalists and winners will also be congratulated at NIDays Conference and Exhibition, held at The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London, the following day, 20 November. To see this year’s Graphical System Design Achievement Awards shortlist, go to

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