'Roboglasses' from FauxSee Innovations Help Visually Impaired

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 12:00 am  

Tim Zigler, left in inset, and Brandon Foshee formed Fauxsee to sell Roboglasses, a device that helps the visually impaired avoid head and upper body injury. The original Roboglasses prototype (below), designed by Tim Zigler, was simply a pair of sunglasses with parking aid sensors attached.

Ten years ago, Brandon Foshee of Magnolia was suffering from headaches and blurred vision. Doctors told him his optic nerve was swelling and they couldn’t do anything to prevent it from rupturing. The resulting scar tissue robbed Foshee of his sight.

Now, Foshee and his brother-in-law Tim Zigler are turning that tragedy into business with the development of “Roboglasses,” a product intended to keep the visually impaired aware of their surroundings and reduce injuries.

Zigler grew up in Magnolia but now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. When he met his brother-in-law, the first thing Zigler asked him was what type of technology was available to help the visually impaired move freely. Foshee was relying mostly on the traditional methods.

“As soon as he said he just uses the cane and guide dog, my brain started working,” Zigler said. “I thought that was crazy.”

Zigler was a finance manager for a car dealership and had worked in the auto industry for many years.

“When you start seeing cars that can park themselves and can tell what’s in front of you, I thought it was mind-blowing that we still didn’t have some technology that could recognize objects,” he said.

He started thinking about how Foshee, despite having an above-average sense of direction, would sometimes still walk into things and injure himself, even in familiar areas. Plus, his guide dog and cane couldn’t prevent collisions with obstacles at chest or head height.

“A cane doesn’t protect the traveler against low-hanging items like awnings on buildings that happen to be down low, or if tree branches are sticking out, or even a pole — you might miss the pole but you might not miss the sign,” said Larry Dickerson, CEO of World Services for the Blind in Little Rock. “Occasionally, visually impaired people get hit in the upper body with an obstacle in their path that the cane wouldn’t pick up. … Even a dog might miss picking up on an overhead object.”

Dickerson said there are “laser canes” that detect objects and send signals to the user, but very few people have those.

These thoughts were on Zigler’s mind as he was backing his car out of his driveway one day in 2011. Like many cars, Zigler’s had sensors that would activate an alarm when he was getting too close to an obstacle.

“He realized, why can’t this technology be used to help blind people like me?” Foshee said.

“I called Brandon and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea,’” Zigler said. “I’ve thought myself through this, and I think I can buy a back-up sensor kit and build a crude model. … At first it wasn’t a business idea. It was kind of a common courtesy idea. So what I did is I went to AutoZone and bought a back-up detector kit and built the first prototype.”



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