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The Smart Glasses That Provide Captions for the Deaf

a pair of smart caption glasses at work

For more than a decade, there has been a great deal of hype concerning augmented reality. As early as 2011, Google introduced its AR project working on Google Glasses eyewear. Not long after, several other companies started similar projects. And of course, today we have Facebook changing its name to Meta and moving toward a metaverse. But while most AR projects tend to focus on gaming and entertainment, few have true utilities that make the world a better place. Interestingly, that no longer appears to be the case. With the introduction of smart caption glasses, those who are hearing impaired have new opportunities.

(Bold has written extensively about the Metaverse–brush up on the topic here.)

Recently, two augmented reality companies got together to create something really profound and benevolent. They developed the first smart glasses for deaf individuals that allows them to read conversations that they otherwise cannot hear. Labeled smart caption glasses, a wearer can “see” conversations around them even if they aren’t looking at the speaker. Leveraging AR technologies to create this breakthrough, these innovators are ushering in new possibilities for the future. In terms of basic AR glasses overall, they are among many companies invested in these new pursuits. But when it comes to smart glasses for deaf individuals and for more practical uses, they are in the forefront.

“We are so proud of the ability of this innovative technology to enrich the lives of people who are deaf and have hearing loss, so that they can maximize potential.” – Dan Scarfe, XRAI Glass CEO

How Smart Caption Glasses Came to Be

Like many companies today, Nreal has been intrigued and invested in creating augmented reality hardware. Based in the United Kingdom, Nreal developed a sleek and stylish version of AR glasses that they call Nreal Air glasses. Retailing for around £400, these glasses provide wearers HD-quality AR imagery for gaming and entertainment. And they also come equipped with 2 open-air speakers and noise/echo cancelation technology. While this is pretty cool and all, their real adventure began when they partnered with XRAI Glass. It was then they decided to create smart glasses for deaf individuals by leveraging the advances they had already made.

While Nreal provides the hardware for their smart caption glasses, XRAI Glass provides the captioning software. The AR glasses themselves look almost like a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers with a little more “beef” added. Immediately behind the outside lens is a second pair of AR lens that provides the visual enhancements. And as part of these enhancements, wearers get to see a portion of their screen filled with closed captioning text. These captions are automatically generated from ambient conversations in the room, providing a visual transcription. Plus, with the aid of voice recognition software components, the text is even assigned to a particular speaker. When it comes to practical innovations, these smart glasses for deaf individuals are a real game-changer.

“This is a great example of the positive difference innovative technology can make for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.” – Mark Atkinson, CEO at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID)

A Vast Potential for Smart Caption Glasses

The clear benefit for smart glass for deaf individuals is the ability to more actively engage and participate in conversations. It opens doors for them in conversing with those who do not know sign language. It also enhances their ability to read lips. But at the same time, it allows them to be able to do things many of us take for granted. For example, rather than watching someone’s hand signs and lips, they might be attending to other things. This could be preparing a meal in the kitchen, putting away laundry, or even jogging alongside outdoors. And the smart caption glasses have other benefits beyond reading others’ speech. They can also provide text for smart assistants like Siri and Alexa. Here too, those with impaired hearing can engage with these digital assistants without having to watch a stationary screen.

Someone rocking their super smart glasses
Smart caption glasses are the latest innovation that can help the deaf.

While smart glasses for deaf individuals paves the wave to great opportunities, these aren’t the only ones. There are some other additions to these devices that Nreal and XRAI Glass are pursuing in the near future. For example, future versions of these smart caption glasses may provide language translations. Imagine traveling to another country and not having to struggle with a foreign language. They are even trying to identify different pitches, accents, and tones of voice to enhance these types of features. In essence, each of these advances have to potential to greatly enhance human communications in many ways. And with greater communication comes greater creativity and innovation.

“The magic {of AR glasses] will really come alive when you can use them in the real world without the technology getting in the way.” Sundar Pichai, Alphabet CEO

The First of Many Smart Caption Glasses to Come

As you might have guessed, Nreal and XRAI Glass are not alone when it comes to smart caption glasses. Many companies are involved in this pursuit, and some are big name players. Google has recently announced that it is again trying to test public use of AR glasses. Its prior attempts years ago resulted in issues related to distractions as well as privacy. But the company hopes this time around, things will be better. Other major companies working on AR glasses include Facebook/Meta, Apple, Microsoft and Snap. Other less known competitors also include Bose, Magic Leap, and Intel. There’s little doubt that Nreal’s smart glasses for deaf individuals definitely won’t be the only ones available in the near future.

When it comes to such competition, the end result will be good in many ways. Innovations will be more likely to occur in relation to these technologies. Likewise, the affordability of these smart caption glasses will be much improved. But it also remains important to ensure that these advanced technologies are used for more than simply gaming and entertainment. They need to meet individual and societal needs that lead to positive change. Smart glasses for deaf individuals is a perfect example of this and one that can serve as a guide for future pursuits. In this regard, AR companies must maintain a long-term vision rather than one that seeks profits in the immediate future. For any new technology, this is where the real advantages and opportunities lie. And those associated with AR glasses are likely to be no different.


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