updated 5/29/2012 6:19:59 PM ET 2012-05-29T22:19:59

Many people are excited about how Google glasses might make their lives easier by reminding them of appointments or sending them weather updates when they look out the window. Beyond convenience and fun, however,  augmented-reality glasses  may one day help people with visual impairments navigate more safely and independently. One team of engineers in Madrid is working on glasses that outline objects in bright colors and tell wearers how far away those objects are. 

The glasses are for those who have lost contrast and depth perception. "This device is aimed at people who would bump into everything that they fail to see because of their loss of visual field, caused by glaucoma, retinal pathologies, et cetera,"  said Ricardo Vergaz, an electronics engineer at Carlos III University and lead researcher on the project.

Vergaz's prototype has two cameras mounted on the glasses to capture the scene in front of the wearer. Wires from the cameras connect to a pocket-size computing device loaded with a program that determines the edges of objects and calculates how far away they are. Then the glasses' small screens outline the objects in different colors, depending on their distance from the viewer. 

For now, the glasses' makers have turned over their prototype to  eye disease  researchers at the University of Valladolid, also in Spain, who are testing the device with their patients. At the end of the year, the engineers will get feedback on how to improve the glasses, Vergaz said. 

Meanwhile, he is also working on a device that would magnify text for people with age-related macular degeneration.

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