Guide dogs could soon be phased out after scientists developed a smart camera capable of helping blind people avoid collisions.
The device is able to reduce collisions by more than one-third and works by connecting a camera to a processing unit which captures nearby surroundings to determine levels of risk.
Two wristbands designed for either fully blind or visually impaired people connect to the device and both of these bands vibrate to warn of a direct collision.
Only one of the wristbands will vibrate in the event of an imminent collision on one side.
Thirty-one blind and partially sighted adults took part in a study led by specialist eyesight researchers at the Mass General Brigham non-profit hospital in Boston in the United States.
Along with the use of either a long cane or a guide dog, the camera was found to reduce collisions by 37 per cent compared to a cane or dog being used on its own.
Because the device works to examine relative motion, it only warns the wristband wearer of objects that actually pose a collision risk, rather than those that are just nearby.
“Independent travel is an essential part of daily life for many people who are visually impaired, but they face a greater risk of bumping into obstacles when they walk on their own,” said Dr Gang Lu, a Harvard ophthalmology professor who helped to oversee the study.
“Although many blind individuals use long canes to detect obstacles, collision risks are not completely eliminated. We sought to develop and test a device that can augment these everyday mobility aids, further improving their safety.”
The study was one of the first of its kind to look at the potential benefits of such technology outside of a controlled laboratory setting.
Guide dogs, such as Sadie, pictured here with David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, can cost up to £45,000 over their lifetime
Credit: Chris Young/PA
While there are advantages to guide dogs, they usually work for between six to eight years and cost between £33,000 and £44,000 on average over their lifetime, according to the researchers.
They also require diligent training and care, including daily feeding and relief schedules, while handlers also need to factor in overnight trips and holidays.
Some white canes can be inflexible, which makes them more difficult to use in crowded settings and susceptible to snapping in two.
Around 850 new guide dogs are matched with blind or partially sighted Britons each year, although this process can be time-consuming.
There are an estimated two million people in the UK living with sight loss, 360,000 of whom are blind or partially sighted, according to NHS figures.