Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 11, 1994

By Marc Kusinitz

If all goes well, hundreds of visually impaired people will
see more clearly next year, thanks to high-tech goggles.
    The device, called the Low Vision Enhancement System, is
available by prescription at the Wilmer Eye Institute. By
this fall it will be distributed in seven cities; expanded
distribution is expected in 1995.
    The LVES, pronounced "Elvis," is a battery-powered,
high-tech visual aid developed by scientists at Wilmer in
collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration and the Veterans Administration.
    The device is designed to enhance and compensate for low
vision in people whose eyesight with conventional eyeglasses
is worse than 20/100 in their better eye, but better than
    "LVES does not fix vision or restore vision. Instead, it
alters images to make them easier for people to see with the
vision they still have," said Robert W. Massof, professor of
ophthalmology and lead inventor. Dr. Massof also directs the
Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at Wilmer.
    The less than 2-pound headset is fitted with three
miniature, black-and-white video cameras. Two of the cameras,
one over each eye, provide a normal 3-D view to observe
what's happening in their environment. The third, more
complex camera is used for seeing facial features, fine
details of objects, distant objects, or for close-up,
detailed work and reading.
    Controls built into a battery pack worn on the belt let
the wearer adjust, contrast and magnify images from 1.5 to 10
times. The unit automatically compensates for changes in
lighting to reduce glare in bright light. In addition to
displaying images from the built-in video cameras, a cable
connection lets the LVES become a personal large-screen
display for input from televisions, video cassette recorders
or computers.
    The device is currently available to selected patients
in seven cities. Patients who wish to participate in the
initial distribution program should have had experience using
low-vision devices or have been in a low-vision program at a
health-care or rehabilitation facility.
    "Now that the development and preliminary testing phases
are completed, the next step is to refine our ability to
evaluate patients who might benefit from the device," Dr.
Massof said. "And we'll be expanding our program to train
eye-care specialists and prescribe LVES. If all goes well,
the LVES will be more generally available in 1995."
    Future LVES models will compensate for distorted vision
and blind spots caused by diseases of the macula, the part of
the retina of the eye responsible for sharp vision.
Age-related macular degeneration, a major disease of the
retina, is caused by the death of light-sensitive cells in
the macula, which people use for detailed work, such as
    They will also be able to compensate for rapid movement
of disorienting, magnified images and to improve contrast
that makes faces more easily recognizable.
    "Our engineers are experienced in building vision
systems for the military, like the helmet-mounted displays
that helicopter pilots used in Operation Desert Storm," said
Brad Blankenship, president of the Minnesota-based Visionics
Corp., which manufactures LVES. "To use such high technology
for this uniquely peaceful, beneficial application is very
    Most patients receiving the LVES will be fitted and
trained at several VA medical centers. "The VA has the best
programs in the United States for rehabilitating people who
are blind or visually impaired," Dr. Massof said.
    The LVES is being manufactured and sold by Visionics on
an exclusive basis worldwide. Hopkins owns the patent and
holds equity in the company. The device, which costs $5,200,
is registered with the Food and Drug Administration but not
yet covered by Medicare, Dr. Massof said. As more units
become available, the price is expected to be reduced.

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage