Smart glasses that help the blind “see”- Interview with Cornel Amariei

June 10, 2016

Cornel Amariei, a young and talented Romanian engineer landed a spot in Forbes 30 under 30 Europe in 2016. He is well-know for inventing Lumen, a device that uses a 3-D scanner and vibrating sensors to help the blind get around on their own.

In an exclusive interview with Cornel, Pawel Nazaruk, founder of Better World International asked the 22-year-old inventor about his inspiration to build Lumen and his passion and commitment to help people with disabilities.

You can listen to the interview here.

Pawel: What was your motivation to invent Lumen? Why did you choose to path to help blind people?

Cornel: It’s more of a personal story, actually. I am coming from a family with members having disability. I was able to help them to some extent, but in the end, I realize that handicaps really have no cure so far, particularly for blind or visually impaired people. These thoughts inspired me to design a special device that can help them.

I had a rough idea about how the device should look like, I tested it, and it actually worked. Once you realize you may be able to solve a problem that bothers you, you just can’t stop digging deeper.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for blind and visually impaired people in everyday life?

The two main challenges are getting information and outdoor navigation. When they are at home, and everything is well-arranged, the blind people can use labels and other senses to help themselves get orientated and find their ways around.

However, once they get out, knowing things is a problem. Except in Western Europe and the U.S., there are very few places in the world that have signs or mediums on the street to guide blind people, for example, to help them navigate where the sidewalk is.

A lot of things we are taking for granted, such as surfing on the internet, is actually very difficult for people with vision loss.

Could you please explain us how Lumen exactly works?

Basically Lumen is an eye glasses-based, wearable device that is aimed to help the blind in day to day life. It allows visually-impaired people to perceive the location of objects exactly like those with 20-20 vision, but it does so using tactile senses.

More specifically, it uses the optical 3D scanner to map the environment in front of the user and transform it into an array of electric impulses that goes to the brain, which alerts the person of any obstacles in the way.

In fact, after weeks of training, the user can actually regain about 10 percent of the power of sight. Although Lumen cannot help people understand the color or shape of the object,or they cannot tell the exact location of the keys on the keyboard, but they might be able to know it is a keyboard and how far it is without touching it.

With Lumen, people who are blind or visually impaired can travel and cross streets unaided. It is definitely something that can really change a lot of lives.

It sounds like a revolutionary invention! When Lumen would be available on the market?

We are still in the development phase with the sensors. The system has excellent performance in laboratory conditions, in fact, it works 90%of the time off-site, but for such a device we have to ensure that it works properly 99.9% of time.

We have to make sure that the device does not give any errors when people are crossing the streets and take other actions.

We are planning to conduct outdoor experiments, probably starting next year. If everything goes well by the end of next year, the device would be put into mass production and soon it would be available for everybody who needs it.

Besides Lumen, have you thought about designing other tools for the handicapped?

Definitely,  Lumen is just a research startup, the device would not be the only product in the Lumen portfolio.

Right now, we are also working on product that can help blind people navigate on the computer and participate in the digital society.

Cornel, what do you think, how can we solve the problem of blindness in the future?

I believe we can do so with advance in science and technology, I am pretty sure blindness would no longer be a problem in the next several decades.

Most likely, the problem would be solved by using prosthetic eyes for humans that can stimulate the optical nerve and send visual signals from the eye to the brain. Some experiments have already been done in the topic and have reached preliminary success. Soon, the blind would be able to restore the sight and live a completely normal life.

If you want to learn more about Cornel Amariei and his projects, check his page on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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About Cornel

Cornel Amariei is the founder and inventor of Lumen, a blind-assisting headset that uses sensorial substitution to describe the surrounding environment to its user. He was selected as one of the 10 standout members of Forbes 30 under 30 Europe. Cornel is now working as an Senior R&D Engineer at Continental.

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