The discussion around AR is often dominated by its consumer and commercial endpoints. But what about its ability to help handicapped individuals? This was a theme at CES, under the broader umbrella of AR glasses’ showing at the show.

In fact, in his opening remarks to the media on press day, Sunday, January 7th, CES futurist Brian Comiskey said healthtech would be a defining theme of the show this year. I was surprised by how much of this has to do with Augmented Reality, computer vision, and other immersive technologies. XR is helping the blind to see, or at least get around, and helping the hearing-impaired in significant new ways.

The Strip Gets Spatial, Part II: AR Glasses Throw Down

Oculenz is a head mounted display created to restore sight to the 23 million Americans suffering from Advanced Macular Degeneration. It was the first thing we saw at the entrance to Showstoppers, a press-only event on the first night of CES featuring many companies not otherwise exhibiting at the show. A big crowd gathered around inventors and brothers Mitch and Michael Freeman to demo their new Oculenz, which uses advanced pixel manipulation software to overlay high-contrast images onto the user’s field of view, compensating for AMD’s central vision loss by shifting images to the peripheral vision. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor, OcuLenz offers a high-resolution 2.5K per eye experience with a big 72-degree field-of-view. Available for pre-order, the first batch will be delivered to users in Q2. The company’s investors include dozens of AMD specialists, so they should have no trouble finding customers, even though the device costs around $6,000, and is only partially covered by insurance.

EyeCane smart glasses use a 4K camera and mobile app to capture video, process it, and display it back to the user in real time. This way, live images are moved from their impaired area to the viewable peripheral area, restoring normal sight. EyeCane won a CES 2024 Innovation Award. The team started working on this project when they were in high school. No price or street date.

OrCam has also developed a device that assists the deaf or hearing impaired. OrCam Technologies unveiled several new, innovative products, showcasing advancements for individuals with hearing and visual impairments. OrCam Hear uses AI and deep learning models to isolate and amplify the voices of selected speakers while filtering out background noise. This tackles the “cocktail party problem” faced by traditional hearing aids. OrCam Hear earbuds are controlled via a mobile phone app. Shipping expected later in the year. OrCam MyEye, enhanced with AI, offers support for users with visual impairments by reading text, recognizing faces, and identifying products. The AI companion of OrCam MyEye is tuned to individual user preferences, allowing for personalized interactions and feedback. It can also access online information, transforming it into a comprehensive assistant for daily life.

OrCam Read 3 is a versatile tool for those with vision loss or reading fatigue. The new “Just Ask” feature enables it to capture text or handwriting and interactively respond to user queries, extending beyond simple reading. It can summarize texts, read them aloud, and even provide contextual information from the internet. Tailored for students with learning and reading challenges, OrCam Learn aids in reading and comprehension. It reads text aloud, provides feedback on the user’s reading, summarizes, translates, and explains words using a dictionary. These are available now on Amazon starting at $2,000.

Lumen meanwhile uses LIDAR sensors to activate vibrations inside a haptic headband to silently, invisibly, guide the blind without the need for a cane or guide dog. Founder and CEO Cornel Amariei was born in a family of people with disabilities. Growing up he realized how much technology can help and also how little technology for people with disabilities exists. Amariei says the device, which will be available next year, replaces the guide dog, which can cost $70,000 to train, something that can’t be scaled to service 40M blind people. In December 2021, the European Innovation Council (EIC) invested 9.7 million EUR.

Oculenz, Eyecane, OrCam, and DotLumen represent a revolution in assistive augmenting technology for those who need it most. But these are not cheap. Some devices may be covered by insurance or Medicare. In other countries, of course, it’s a different story but in the US if you want one of the incredible devices for yourself or a loved one, it’s going to set you back.

EssilorLuxottica’s Nuance Audio glasses drew a crowd at CES 2024. These glasses, which can help those with ‘mild to moderate’ hearing loss, look set to disrupt the hearing aid market. The glasses weigh just 40g and come in two styles with invisible ‘advanced hearing’ technology built into the frames. The volume is controlled via the glasses, an app, or a small remote and can be adjusted for each environment. The cost should be less than $500.

Meta’s presence at CES 2024 was primarily showcased through its collaboration with EssilorLuxottica, who were primarily promoting their Nuance Audio glasses for the hearing impaired. These $329 audio smart glasses are getting a lot smarter with the integration of Meta’s AI agents. The sound is upgraded, and the camera, which takes awfully awkward pictures uploaded to an equally janky Facebook app, is now doing double duty as a sensor – feeding the AI so it knows where you are and what you are doing.

Charlie Fink is the author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse,” (2017) and “Convergence” (2019). In the early 90s, Fink was EVP & COO of VR pioneer Virtual World Entertainment. He teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA.

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