DIY Augmented Reality: A Pair of Glaucoma-Correction Glasses for My Dad


My otherwise ridiculously healthy dad was diagnosed with glaucoma a while back, and though it now appears to be under control thanks to the right prescription meds, his vision isn't as good as it used to be. Specifically, the contrast and brightness of what he sees with that eye has been reduced.

An avid user photographer, my dad posed a fascinating solution to this problem. What if he hooked up a Looxcie-style video camera near his left eye, then fed the resulting video through an auto-contrast filter, which would display on a small screen inside a pair of glasses. It might look weird, but it'd be a real-life use of augmented reality that's actually useful. In rough visual terms, this is what the problem is and what the solution would do:


To me, the strange thing is that this sounds possible, even plausible. Then again, I don't know how technically challenging it is to provide that kind of real-time video correction. Where are the sticking points? My dad and I would love your help sketching out how this contraption could work -- and then building it.

Searching around for information on how difficult this task might be, I wasn't able to find much. Much of the discussion around augmented reality vision focuses on contact lenses, I suppose because they are futuristic and sexy. But my dad isn't looking for anything that crazy. He just wants a pair of glasses with an auto-contrasting screen for the left eye.

I found a Spanish team was working on a vision augmentation system back in 2005. They seemed to have made some progress, but that was years ago. The trail goes cold after that and I haven't really seen it.

So, how about it, hardware hackers: could you do this?

I pasted in my dad's original query below, so you can hear his specific descriptions. I'd be happy to put any interested hackers in touch with him, as long as you are not a crazy person. Or, rather, as long as you are the right kind of crazy person.

As any user of Picasa or probably any other photo manipulator program knows, there is a button, "Auto-contrast," that will sharpen and lighten up any image unless there is a large bright vs dark gradient e.g., big bright sunny sky on upper half of a composition and say, dark forest in the bottom part in the shot. Normally, if the image is within a relatively narrow range of lighting, it will light up and sharpen it as if by magic.

Well, I have observed that my left eye -- affected by advancing Glaucoma -- perhaps now being controlled by the right mix of prescription eye drops, perceives significantly less light and detail (contrast) than my almost normal right eye, with or without prescription glasses on. Probably there is no way to have a corrective prescription that would restore the ability of the optic nerve to perceive the full details of what it is seeing. However if the lenses themselves could auto-contrast the image as it goes through the lens by the application of some type of software embedded in the glasses frame along with some miniaturized hardware also embedded in the frame, the eye would be looking at the enhanced (brightened and sharpened) image in the lens providing the eyes cones and rods with enough additional light to offset some if not all the lost capacity. The lenses might have to look as Borg-like appendages to accommodate the additional technology.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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