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New Technology Could Help the Legally Blind to See

The glasses work by capturing images with a small camera, enhancing them, and then projecting them onto screens in front of each eye in real-time.

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TUCSON, AZ – Technology being developed at the University of Arizona could help those who are legally blind or who have impaired eyesight to see.

Hong Hua, professor of optical sciences at the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, has become highly recognized for her research in innovative 3D display technologies, complex visualization systems and novel image acquisition systems. Working with graduate student Jason Kuhn, the team developed technology that has enabled the creation of the latest generation of near-eye optics, according to a press release from the university.

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Specifically, Hua and Kuhn developed a wedge-shaped prism eyepiece design with free-form surfaces that provide both high resolution and a large exit pupil – a combination and level of image quality that has not been previously achieved.

In optics, the exit pupil of an eyepiece is a virtual aperture through which light exits a system and projects into a viewer’s eye. Imagine holding a pair of binoculars about ten inches in front of your eyes; the small circle of light you see in each lens is the exit pupil.

In developing a way to deliver a larger exit pupil and wider field of view in a near-eye system, the UA invention provides a larger image and thus more visual data to the brain.

“This is where we see the real-world impact of the leading research being done at the UA,” said TLA Director of Licensing Rakhi Gibbons. “We’re so proud of Dr. Hua and her work, and of the UA’s commitment to contributing to improving lives.”

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Working with Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from research, the university patented the technologies and licensed them to eSight Corp., a company that has integrated the inventions into new electronic glasses that deliver the ultimate combination of image quality, field of view, size, weight and cost.

“When I originally met with the eSight team, I was intrigued by the broad social impact of the project,” Hua said. “They said they were developing a system to help low vision people, and the more I listened to them, the more I thought they were doing something really useful and helpful, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

The end product – eSight 3 – allows individuals with low vision to see, permitting the legally blind to be mobile, thrive at work, study independently and engage in virtually all activities of daily life. The glasses work by capturing images with a small camera, enhancing them, and then projecting them onto screens in front of each eye in real-time, providing more visual data to the brain and triggering an increased reaction from the eye. The glasses also allow users to adjust zoom, focus, contrast and color.

According to eSight Chief Technology Officer Charles Lim, the partnership with Hua and the UA has helped the company be an innovative leader.

He said, “The IP we worked on with the University of Arizona has been critical in allowing us to develop our proprietary best in class near-eye optics that have allowed eSight to deliver the best combination of image quality, field of view, size, weight and cost to help position us as leaders in this space.”

According to the company’s website, the glasses restore sight for a majority of individuals with low vision, helping people with macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinal detachment, cataracts, retinopathy and other conditions.

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Be My Eyes Raises $2.8M in Funding for App to Support Blind and Visually Impaired

It’s using a ‘purpose and profit’ business model.

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SAN FRANCISCO — Be My Eyes, the mobile app that allows anyone to assist visually impaired people through live video calls, has raised $2.8 million in funding. The investment allows the company to further develop its “purpose and profit” business model while keeping the visual support service free and unlimited for all visually impaired users, according to a press release.

The Series A round, led by Cultivation Capital, also welcomed new board members Paul Weber (Cultivation Capital) and Michael Buckley (angel investor and former vice president of global communications at Facebook). Be My Eyes has previously been backed by angels and investment funding from the likes of Singularity University, the founders of Zendesk and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco.

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Be My Eyes solves a simple problem for users: It calls up a real person, on demand, to describe what’s in front of a blind user’s camera. Initially supported entirely by volunteers, Be My Eyes recently announced that it would begin partnering with companies to provide expert-level support through a new feature in the app (Specialized Help). Microsoft signed on as Be My Eyes’ first video support partner in 2018, followed by Google, Lloyds Banking Group, and Procter & Gamble, who now all provide video customer support to the BME community, which spans more than 175 countries. Companies can provide Specialized Help globally or by region, and support services are free to Be My Eyes users.

“In call centers around the world, we’ve seen the Be My Eyes software greatly reduce ticket handling times and increase satisfaction rates, from both support agents and blind or low vision callers,” says Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, chief commercial officer at Be My Eyes. “What’s more, each call that a company receives brings attention to parts of the product or service that can be designed more inclusively.”

Kyndra LoCoco, partner and programs manager at Google Accessibility, added, “The Google Disability Support team is thrilled to be building a more accessible support experience through the Be My Eyes app. It’s our hope that others join us on this journey.”

With a community of users that has doubled in size each year since 2015, Be My Eyes’ “micro-volunteering” platform “has become beloved amongst blind and sighted users alike,” according to the release.

“Fueled by inspiring stories and viral social media posts of strangers connecting across oceans to help one another, the small startup has amassed what amounts to the world’s largest global community of visually impaired people (almost 200,000), and a volunteer community many times that size (more than 3.5M).”

“Be My Eyes is a great example of how technology can help bring communities together and empower people who are blind or with low vision,” says Neil Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft. “By working together with Be My Eyes, their incredible sighted volunteers, and the growing community of organizations participating in the Specialized Help program, we can help more people around the world live independent lives. We are honored to be part of this vibrant community and provide support for all of their customers through our Disability Answer Desk services.”

“As we grow and age, we all need help seeing at some point,” says Be My Eyes CEO Christian Erfurt, who co-founded the company with a legally blind craftsman named Hans Jørgen Wiberg in 2014. “It’s been a pleasure to see that not only do people want to give their time to support this large population – but companies want to make their customer service offerings more accessible. For them, we’ve built a simple but beautiful tool.”

Erfurt says the corporate partnership business model was conceived so that Be My Eyes will never have to charge blind users for the service. “We believe that access to sight is a human right, and you don’t charge people for that.”

Watch a video about the service:

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Alcon’s Pataday Eye Allergy Meds Get FDA Nod for Nonprescription Use

They’ll no longer be sold as prescription drugs.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two Alcon eye allergy products for over-the-counter use through a process called a “prescription (Rx)-to-OTC switch.”

The FDA gave the OK to these medications for nonprescription use:

  • Pataday Twice Daily Relief (olopatadine HCl ophthalmic solution/drops, 0.1%) for the temporary relief of itchy and red eyes due to pollen, ragweed, grass, animal hair or dander.
  • Pataday Once Daily Relief (olopatadine HCl ophthalmic solution/drops, 0.2%) for the temporary relief of itchy eyes due to pollen, ragweed, grass, animal hair or dander.

“As a result of the Rx-to-OTC switch process, many products sold over-the-counter today use ingredients or dosage strengths that were available only by prescription 30 years ago,” said Karen Mahoney, MD, acting deputy director of the Office of Nonprescription Drugs in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Approval of a wider range of nonprescription drugs has the potential to improve public health by increasing the types of drugs consumers can access and use that would otherwise only be available by prescription. This includes providing the millions of people that suffer with joint pain from arthritis daily over-the-counter access to another non-opioid treatment option.”

For a drug to switch to nonprescription status, the data provided must demonstrate that the drug is safe and effective for use in self-medication as directed in proposed labeling. The manufacturer must show that consumers can understand how to use the drug safely and effectively without the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Pataday Twice Daily Relief was first approved by the FDA in 1996 under the name Patanol as a prescription drug and was indicated for the treatment of the signs and symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis (referring to ocular redness and itching due to allergies). Pataday – now Pataday Once Daily Relief – was first approved by the FDA in 2004 as a prescription drug and was indicated for the treatment of ocular itching associated with allergic conjunctivitis. These drugs are mast cell stabilizers, which work by preventing the release of histamine and therefore prevent or control allergic disorders.

The products will be marketed in the U.S. as nonprescription drugs and will no longer be available as prescription drugs.

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Optical Centers Planned for 4 Oklahoma Sam’s Club Stores As a Result of New Law

They’re expected to open within the next few months.

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Optical centers will open in four Sam’s Club stores in Oklahoma City, KFOR-TV reports.

The plans follow the passage of legislation allowing optometrists to practice within retail settings. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law in May 2019.

The optical centers are expected to open within the next few months. and 10 more centers are expected to open in the state by summer, according to KFOR.

Retailers are permitted to sell lenses and frames under the new legislation. But optometrists cannot be employees of retailers.

The law also does not allow retailers have control over any aspect of the eye exam.

The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians has stated that the new legislation “will protect Oklahoma’s vision health standards while increasing convenience for consumers.”

Read more at KFOR-TV

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