London - High-tech glasses that allow the blind to see could be on sale as early as next year.

The gadget, which is hoped to cost no more than a smartphone, will allow wearers to “see’” ovement and facial expressions.

It could also help those who are normally confined to their homes navigate shopping centres or simply walk to the corner shop.

The glasses work by combining information relayed by an infra-red beam and normal video camera. A small computer processes the data before it is projected onto the lenses in the form of line drawings, with closer objects appearing brighter.

One tester of the Oxford University prototype said the extra vision made him feel like a superhero. Another could see her guide dog for the first time.

It is thought that up to 100 000 Britons could benefit from the breakthrough, which capitalises on the fact that most people who are registered blind can still perceive light.

And despite the bulky prototype, the technology is advancing so rapidly that researchers hope the final product will be no bigger than chunky sunglasses.

They also want to add an earpiece which will scan the image and pass on detail such as bus numbers by reading out loud.

Currently, under half of Britain’s 365 000 registered blind people leave their home each day. Lead researcher Dr Stephen Hicks said: “The idea is to give people with poor vision ... greater independence and confidence and an improved quality of life.”

The technology allowed Lyn Oliver, 70, of Faringdon in Oxfordshire, to see her guide dog Jess properly for the first time. Before this, she could only see an isolated eye or ear.

Fellow tester Iain Cairns, 43, of London, was able to make out the pattern on the tablecloth when he tried on the glasses in a cafe. He said: “It’s like having a sixth sense, an extra superpower – knowing where to look and pick out objects.It’s very exciting.”

Researcher Joram van Rheede added: “I’m trying to be a sceptical scientist ... but as we test more people it really becomes apparent that there are a lot who we can significantly help.”

John Worsfold, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said the development is “incredibly important”, and could offer blind people the chance to “carry out a normal life”. - Daily Mail