Man wearing Eyedaptic glasses playing scrabble with granddaughter
Accessibility & Technology

What’s Up with Smart Glasses?

Jan 31, 2023

What’s Up with Smart Glasses?

By now we expected smart glasses to be all the rage. They’d be on lots of faces, in the same way smartphones are in (just about) every hand. Actually, they were predicted to replace the smartphone, providing the wearer with voice access to information and apps. And, of course, they’d be accessible to visually impaired or blind users, because smartphones are. It would be wonderfully inclusive and normalizing, glasses that made information accessible, whether you could see the screen or not.

Google’s Early Glass

It was the anticipated, but short-lived promise of Google Glass. Launched in 2013, with a $1,500 price tag and the intention to create a ubiquitous computer whose wearers would communicate with the internet via natural language. An excellent idea, but failing to reach critical mass. Google discontinued it’s public product in 2015, re-introducing Glass for enterprise in 2017. Was the technology not quite ready, or was it the customer who was not in sync?

Apple’s Rumored Glasses

For years the rumors abound, with stories of Apple’s smart glasses in development. They would somehow replace iPhone, and they would be accessible, of course. Years of gossip on the subject, should have taught us not to believe everything we read. Nonetheless, the rumors continue. According to Bloomberg, and published on Apple News, “Apple Inc.’s long-anticipated mixed-reality headset is an ambitious attempt to create a 3D version of the iPhone’s operating system, with eye- and hand-tracking systems that could set the technology apart from rival products.” Now said to be launching in early 2023 at a price of $3,000, they also report, Apple decided to offload the battery pack, roughly the size of 2 iPhones, to rest in the users pocket, at the end of a cable, which sounds rather antiquated. We’ll have to wait and see.

Profile view of woman wearing IrisVision Inspire glasses
Profile view of woman wearing IrisVision Inspire glasses

Wearable Low Vision Devices

If anything has taught us to manage expectations, it is the classification of Wearable Low Vision Devices, also referred to as Electronic Glasses or Smart Glasses. These are head-mounted devices that enhance vision, predominantly through video magnification for people with central vision loss, or field expansion for those with a narrowed visual field, while others offer non-visual assistance. Low vision devices have also been in development for more than a decade with improvements in technology and price.

Visual assistance comes mainly in the form of Trekkie-looking headsets that are slowly coming down in size and weight. Some devices are not designed for mobility and all should be carefully evaluated for specific applications that include reading, watching TV, movies, theater, cooking, crafts, card and board games. IrisVision, Eyedaptic and eSight may serve the need at prices ranging from $2,000 to $6,000.

Non-Visual Low Vision Options

People with uncorrectable vision loss want to see better; no question about that. However, when artificial vision from clunky headsets does not do the trick, there are non-visual options. The OrCam MyEye, at $4,500, reads text, identifies colors, products, and faces. OrCam is not technically smart glasses; it’s a talking camera that clips quietly to the arm of any eyewear. Aira’s visual interpreting assistance can also be access through Envision Glasses for $3,000 plus the monthly service fee, now starting at $50 for 30 minutes.

No smart glasses are needed to magnify images, read, convert text-to-speech, recognize objects and faces, read barcodes and handwriting on an iPhone or most Android phones. Some people consider it less convenient as it requires holding a phone and tapping the screen.

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About the Author: Dorrie Rush

Dorrie Rush is the Chief Content Officer and Visual Accessibility Expert at Ophthalmic Edge Patients (OE Patients), an online resource, presented by the Association for Macular Diseases, providing practical information and empowering advice for living a full and successful life with vision loss.

She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.



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