AR for the blind is straight out of Star Trek

For those who are legally blind, this Augmented Reality headset could enhance vision during essential tasks
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Augmented reality could help the legally blind see.

That's the promise of Canadian company eSight, which showcased its latest technology at the recent Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, the industry's main trade show.

Vision-impaired users wear eSight like a pair of glasses. It gets bonus points for bearing a passing resemblance to the VISOR device worn by Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A front-facing high-definition camera on the headset captures everything in the user's normal field of vision. Images are projected in real-time on near-eye displays.

The glasses are custom made to the wearer's prescription, and the lenses are overlaid with transparent OLED (organic LED) displays. The displays can be adjusted to fill the entire field of vision or just a portion, like bifocals.

Rather than a straight video feed, eSight uses algorithms to optimize footage of the world for specific tasks, such as close reading or navigating a footpath. Depth and focus, which can give people with impaired vision trouble, are adjusted helpfully.

Users can also zoom in on specific objects up to 24x. A vision-impaired student might use the device to get a clear, close-up view of a white board.

The company's mission comes straight from founder Conrad Lewis's personal history. Lewis has two legally blind sisters, and the company is part of a lifelong quest to help them have better lives.

eSight is just one company looking at novel ways to use augmented and virtual reality to enhance accessibility for people living with disabilities.

Augmented shopping and interactive education via augmented reality are seeing increased attention from developers, to the praise of equal access advocacy groups.

Startups like IrisVision are offering affordable alternatives to eSight, which runs about $10K for the latest model.

That's a good thing for the technology as a whole. Right now, Augmented Reality is struggling to escape the novelty phase. Experiential marketing stunts and goofy games dominate the space.

Developers will have to demonstrate some real world value to push the consumer market to take the technology seriously. Applications like this, while niche, are a step toward demonstrating the power of the technology.

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