New Augmented Reality Glasses Help Blind People See

These specs also give you tips

Key Takeaways

  • Envision Glasses use augmented reality, and artificial intelligence aims to help blind people better navigate daily life.
  • The glasses identify text and objects and describe them to users.
  • A growing number of augmented and virtual reality gadgets promise to revolutionize how visually impaired people perceive the world.
A person wearing steampunk glasses with pink lenses and extra features.

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A new type of augmented reality headset called Envision Glasses aims to help blind people better navigate daily life by using artificial intelligence to identify text and objects and describe them to users.

The Envision product joins a growing number of augmented and virtual reality gadgets that promise to revolutionize how visually impaired people perceive the world. It’s a long way from the widely-panned Google Glass that raised privacy concerns. The Envision Glasses can recognize over 60 languages, among a host of features. 

"Envision Glasses come with an array of features, like scene description and video calling, which are unique to Envision," Karthik Mahadevan, CEO, and co-founder of Envision Glasses, said in an email interview.

"This provides users with more ways of making sense of their visual world. Moreover, since Envision Glasses are built as a platform they can constantly keep adding more apps that offer complementary functionalities."

Piggybacking on Google

The Envision glasses cost about $3500, which the company says is considerably less than competitors. The company uses the Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 glasses with custom software. "By developing a device-agnostic software, we have the ability to pick the best hardware available for our needs (which currently happens to be the Google Glass)," Mahadevan said.

"As other smartglasses start coming up in the market, at different price points, Envision will be able to port its software to them as well, offering more choices to the end-users in the long term."

Someone outside wearing smart glasses.

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Envision Glasses uses artificial intelligence to extract information from images and speak them out, Mahadevan said. "This is built into different modules, using different datasets, for performing different key functions such as text recognition, object detection, face recognition, and so on," he added. The company has sold about 200 pairs of the Envision Glasses so far, he said.

Envision faces competition from several other companies that also offer augmented reality and virtual reality devices to help those with visual disabilities. For example, OrCam offers MyEye, which the company bills as a voice-activated device that attaches to virtually any glasses that can read text from a book, smartphone screen, or another surface to you. 

"The device’s user-friendly design features wireless, intuitive operation and has been compacted into a gadget the size of a finger," Dr. Yonatan Wexler, Executive VP of R&D, OrCam Technologies, told Analytics Insight in an interview.

"The lightweight device (22.5 g/0.8 oz) sits on the frame of a user’s eyeglasses and can be operated using intuitive gestures, voice commands, or by simply following the wearer’s gaze. All data is processed offline, without requiring an internet connection, resulting in real-time audio communication of vital visual information while ensuring data privacy."

Going Virtual

While the MyEye offers an assist to perceiving the world, other devices for the visually-impaired take a more comprehensive approach by using virtual reality headsets. For example, the $2,950 goggles made by IrisVision work by using a Samsung smartphone mounted in a Samsung VR headset. The goggles enhance the picture of the surroundings for people who are visually impaired. 

A group of seniors using virtual reality goggles.

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IrisVision assists the user's brain in using the parts of their eyes that still function properly and provides enough information to fill in the gaps captured by the smartphone camera, IrisVision co-founder and CEO Ammad Khan said in an email interview. "This scene enhancement is performed using multiple algorithms developed for various eye conditions," he added. 

A startup called GiveVision manufactures VR goggles called SightPlus that have been clinically validated as a medical device that restores sight for patients who are diagnosed with untreatable sight loss.

Augmented reality got off to a rough start in the early days of the Google Glass launch. It wasn’t clear what the specs would be used for, and people were understandably worried about having their interactions recorded. But there are clearly no losers when it comes to using AR for people with vision impairments.

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