Three cool smart glasses to help people who are blind or have sight loss

Last week saw the world's largest assistive technology fair CSUN held in San Diego and among the many forward-looking tech items on show were three noteable smart glasses with integrated internet-connected cameras. Helping the visually impaired and blind to see, these glasses are definitely worth a second look.

33rd annual CSUN assistive tech conference

This annual conference showcases all that is new and hot in the area of inclusive tech - both specialist and mainstream - and so naturally is of interest to AbilityNet and people with disabilities worldwide.

Nu EyesAmongst the many hundreds of exhibitors' offerings, three sets of smart glasses caught my eye.

1. NuEyes Pro from NuEyes

NuEyes bill their smart glasses as an electronic visual prosthesis for people with low or no vision. The lightweight glasses run on Android and include features like up to 12x magnification, the ability to change the colours and contrast of what you are looking at, bar/QR code scanning and OCR (optical character recognition) to recognise and speak out print documents. They can either be operated with a wireless controller or using simple voice commands.

The NuEyes Pro smart glasses are very powerful but also very pricey. Coming in at $5995 they're really meant to be provided under health insurance or, possibly one day, on the NHS.

2. AIRA

AIRA are smart glasses that also use a camera and connectivity to bring assistance to people with a visual impairment. In this case, however, what you're connected to is a trained assistant who provides spoken feedback about what you are looking at. Useful for help with identifying objects, reading documents, menus or medication. These offer a pair of eyes to guide you through unfamiliar routes or indoor surroundings or perhaps to provide some crucial fashion advice! Currently only available in the US, the AIRA service is being trailled in other countries including the UK.

Aira glasses

Monthly price plans in the US start at $89 for 100 minutes of assistance. This includes the smart glasses, insurance and training on how to use them.

3. QD Laser

With QD Laser we're now getting really futuristic. Not yet available for consumers, this product does away with mini computer-screens mounted in front of your eyes and instead projects images directly on to your retina using lazers. Providing similar capabilities to the NuEyes technology above but with less bulk and weight, this technology is still at least a year away - although functioning prototypes were available on show at the QD Laser booth. They are estimated to cost a similar amount as the NuEyes product above – coming in at around $5000.

So those are the three smart specs that were making a splash at CSUN this year. For an audio tour of each product and interviews with each manufacturer, check out the Blind Bargains podcast.

And finally... Apple's Augmented Reality glasses may be closer than we think

Let's round off with a recent patent by Apple which, if this ever becomes a commercial product, it would undoubtedly make the wearing of smart specs a thoroughly normal practice. Apple would bring the benefits of reality augmented by computer-provided images, audio and spoken information to millions of users, and not just those with a vision impairment.

According to a recent Mashable article, reports suggest that the new microLED displays that Apple is working on - similar to more conventional OLED screens but brighter and consuming less energy — won't just be something for Apple Watches and iPhones.

The next-gen screen technology will also serve as the display for a new kind of product: Apple-made augmented-reality glasses - at least according to a report from DigiTimes. Let's hope that iGlasses (hey, that's quite catchy) are the next big thing, helping everyone with a better, brighter vision of the future.

Robin Christopherson is head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet.

Find more of Robin's blogs on accessibility and assistive tech, here. 

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