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Seeing a solution: Sully's story

Guest Blogger: Paul Gordon is the current Texas A&M SPIE student chapter president, and PhD student in the Optical Biosensing Lab. 

In the fall of 2016, our SPIE chapter received a unique request; would we be able to help design a visual aid for a young boy with severe visual impairments? It was an easy answer; we would certainly try! A few months later Sully and his family traveled to Texas A&M for a day of activities, and a meeting to assess his condition.

Meeting Sully

As we found out, Sully was a lively kid who didn’t slow down much just because his vision wasn’t so good. He loves running, roughhousing, and all things baseball. It was a blast to meet and work with him and his family.

Meeting the family
What we learned is that Sully’s condition causes him to only be able to see out of a small, solid arc in the central periphery of one eye. With input from his parents, we decided that we would start simply and try to redirect his vision so that he can see objects directly in front of him, eliminating the need for him to crane his neck to the side as he walks.

We did a lot of initial research on his condition, and tried to find commercial options that might be well suited. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t many products out there that help with such a severe impairment.

Thus, we decided on a two-pronged approach. We would reach out to an expert in visual impairments to solicit a prototype prism for visual redirection, and we would construct our own mirror-based redirection system to fit onto his protective glasses.

Seeing in action 

After months of work, we had the pleasure of hosting Sully and his family back at College Station for a follow-up visit. This time, we were able to actually tour behind-the-scenes of the baseball stadium before we got to work, which turned out to be a big hit.

Sully's family at the Texas A&M baseball stadium

After that adventure, we asked Sully to try on our glasses prototype and navigate simple obstacle courses to test how they work. They took some getting used to, but before long he was able to re-orient so that he could grasp objects directly in front of him.

While playing tee-ball out in the courtyard, he even connected for a nice hit while wearing the new shades. Overall, it was a fantastic visit and a great day for all involved.

The future is bright

Our chapter is continuing to revise our prototype for Sully, and our expert collaborator was able to create and send us a trial prism prototype for him to try as well. We’re encouraged with the progress, but realize that reaching a functional and usable design solution is never a simple process.

Sully showing off his new specs
In the future, we hope to replace our planar mirrors with off-axis parabolics that will limit distortions and potentially even manipulate Sully’s field of view to optimize for detail or distance work. We’re thankful for the outreach funds provided by SPIE that enabled this work and for the opportunity to use our knowledge to give back to an awesome family.

We’re definitely looking forward to continuing the relationship and developing better solutions as time move on.


  1. Very inspiring! Go sully! And well done to the Texas A&M SPIE Student Chapter!


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