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SPIE Professional January 2013

Eye contact

Device helps visually impaired recognize non-verbal communication.
logo Photonics for a Better World

For some, the essence of sight is not in the beauty of images but in social inclusion.

Blindness and other visual impairment can complicate social integration, orientation, and communication. In conversations, for instance, it is difficult to establish eye contact or recognize another’s meaning and intentions without being able to observe facial expressions and gestures. Similarly, blind people often cannot judge the meaning of silence and other non-verbal cues and are therefore less confident in evaluating emotional behavior.

Now, researchers in the Netherlands have developed a prototype device for blind and visually impaired people who risk being segregated in society because of their lack of perceptual feedback.

Geert Langereis, an assistant professor at University of Technology (TU/e), and Hugo Christiaans, a graduate student there, used their device in a series of experiments that triggered improved social interactions between a person with total blindness and a seeing interviewer.


The Sett system consists of a camera integrated into a pair of sunglasses and a haptic bracelet.

In a recent article in the SPIE Newsroom, Langereis and Christiaans report on “Sett,” their prototype to “extend and support the other senses and to improve quality of life for the blind.”

Sett (Norwegian for see or seen) captures the gaze of people in the line of ‘sight’ of a blind person and converts the information into a tactile signal, giving the blind person feedback on whether the other person is looking at him/her.

Their article describes the system which includes a pair of sunglasses with a camera that can detect eye contact, a haptic feedback bracelet, and a unit for signal processing.

The sunglasses are 141 mm long, 140 mm wide, and 6 mm tall and hold an integrated HD camera with a resolution of 1280×720. The HD webcam is directly linked to a computer through a USB connection, and the captured images are directly loaded into the processing program, which reduces the images to 510×340.

A software program for face-recognition uses OpenCV libraries and is written in Java. The small bracelet consists of a small vibration motor controlled by an Arduino Uno microcontroller board.

When the camera detects eye contact from another person, the wearer is notified by a vibrating signal in the bracelet.


The Sett system works by capturing and detecting the position of a person’s eyes in the blind person’s “line of sight” (left) and converting the information to a tactile signal in a feedback bracelet (right). Center image shows integration of a camera in sunglasses’ frame.

“We live in a world in which everything is revealed by light,” the researchers say, “and so visual impairment and blindness severely impact daily life.

“Globally, it is estimated that 38 million people are blind and more than 110 million people have low vision and are at high risk of blindness,” they state. “Cutting off or segregating these people from society often forces the visually impaired into a dependent role that can influence their behavior.”

For more information on the device, visit the SPIE Newsroom.

Photonics for a Better World

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DOI: 10.1117/2.4201301.17

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