By Bill Takeshita, O.D., F.A.A.O., F.C.O.V.Da, Braille Institute
Have you ever imagined that there would be glasses that were controlled by a computer that would allow you to read, identify faces, and see distant objects clearly? The time is here! Many manufacturers of low vision aids have developed high-tech computer glasses that incorporate a tiny camera in a pair of glasses that focus on the object of interest, and displays the image on a high definition LED screen.
These glasses are very lightweight, comfortable to wear, and they allow users to change the level of magnification, the colors of the background and foreground, and some of them are able to scan written text and read it aloud!
None of the glasses described in this article are legal to use for driving an automobile. Most impressive is the fact that these high-tech glasses have improved the vision and lives of thousands of people with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, optic nerve atrophy, retinitis pigmentosa and other eye diseases.
Vision Enhancement Glasses:
The first category of smart glasses are placed on the user's face and display an enhanced version of their camera image. This image is in full color, and the user is able to magnify, enhance contrast, and change the colors.
The e-Sight glasses are one of the most popular smart glasses and incorporate a large number of features allowing people with low vision to perform daily activities independently.
They are the only glasses so far that have been proven effective in a clinical trial. The e-Sight glasses weigh 4-ounces and incorporate a camera that is smaller than the size of an eraser on a pencil.
The camera is positioned near the bridge of the glasses and sends an automatically focused high definition picture to the Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) screens. These screens, which offer the highest contrast of any display technology, allow a patient's glasses prescription to be incorporated into the system for maximal clarity of sight.
As well, the distance between the displays can be adjusted to match the distance between the patient's eyes, preventing double vision. The 21.5-MegaPixel camera has a very rapid refresh rate that provides smooth images when watching sports or other action.
The user can adjust the magnification up to 24X and also change the contrast and the colors of the background and foregrounds for optimal reading.
The e-Sight has a wide field of view that measures a maximum of 38-degrees. In addition, the OLED screens can be tilted to provide users with the ability to use peripheral vision to walk safely when playing golf or sightseeing while wearing the e-Sight glasses. This is a feature that is unique to e-Sight in this market segment.
"We have been very pleased with the success of the e-Sight 3," said Brian Mech, CEO of e-Sight. "We have dispensed approximately 2,000 units, and children and adults have told us how the glasses have changed their lives."
"The latest versions of the e-Sight are able to take photographs, stream and record videos, connect to and display your mobile phone, connect to a TV or computer via HDMI, WIFI, or Bluetooth, read bar codes, and they can scan books. And many more amazing features are on the way!"
The cost of the e-Sight is $9,995 and is covered in part by some insurance companies, and includes a 3-year warranty. Additionally, the glasses come with a training program called eSkills, and world class customer support including a personal Vision Ambassador who is also a user of the device. For more information, please go to www.esighteyewear.com or call (855) 837-4448.
NuEyes Pro Glasses:
The NuEyes Pro glasses are another very popular form of smart glasses and they function very similarly to the e-Sight devices. The NuEyes Pro consist of a small camera that displays the image on the OLED high resolution screen.
The NuEyes glasses use a high definition camera with a fast refresh rate that provides a clear and smooth picture without "jumpiness" when watching live action and sports. The field of view of the NuEyes measures a maximum of 30 degrees and has up to 12X magnification.
The NuEyes Pro is unique in that users can adjust the magnification, contrast, and color combinations with their voices. There are no wires that connect the glasses to the computer.
"We are very pleased with the latest features we have on the NuEyes Pro. Users can stream videos, scan pages of text and listen to the text, read bar codes on food items, surf the Internet, and they can also take videos and photographs," said Mark Greget, CEO of NuEyes.
The cost of the NuEyes Pro is $5,995 with a 2-year warranty. NuEyes is located in Southern California, and to obtain more information, go to www.nueyes.com or call (800) 605-4033.
The Vuzix glasses are a more affordable design of smart glasses that are being used to assist veterans of the military who have low vision. They consist of a camera that projects the image to a single lens. As a result, users look with one eye to view the image on the screen.
The Vuzix glasses weigh 2.5 ounces and are able to magnify text for reading, and are able to focus at various distances to allow users to identify faces of friends and families. They can also scan text and read it aloud as well as to identify bar codes when shopping for food.
There are multiple models of the Vuzix glasses to meet your specific needs. For more information, go to www.vuzix.com.
Audio Enhancement Smart Glasses:
Smart glasses are also available in designs that do not display a magnified and enhanced image for users to see. Rather, they take a picture of objects, and a voice will describe what is in front of them.
This design of smart glasses is very helpful for those who are totally blind or who have very poor vision. Some manufacturers have staff to tell you exactly what is in front of you while others will use computer technology to describe objects or text.
The AIRA glasses are one of the most exciting and innovative devices to help people with low vision. They are designed with a small camera mounted on the glasses and the camera will display the image to an employee of AIRA and that person will describe to you what is in front of you. The user may ask the employee questions, such as "Where is the escalator to the train station?" or simply ask for directions to find a specific point of interest.
The AIRA system is very helpful in that it can also identify people around you and help you find a person you are trying to meet!
AIRA is a company that relies on their staff to help users. The staff of AIRA are highly trained and available to assist users from 4 am to 10 pm Pacific Standard Time. The fee for the AIRA system is dependent on how many minutes you choose to use it each month.
The initial fee includes the glasses, camera, and all hardware. The user must have a smart phone in order to use the AIRA glasses.
The camera of the AIRA can be mounted to the Google or Vusix glasses. Users can select a monthly plan and change plans at any time.
100-minutes has a fee of $89 while 200-minutes has a fee of $129. 400-minutes are available for a fee of $199 per month. For more information, go to www.aira.io or call (858) 876-2472.
OrCam My Eye Glasses:
The OrCam My Eye is an innovated device that was developed in Israel to help people with low vision to read independently. The OrCam My Eye consists of a pair of conventional glasses with a small camera mounted on them.
The user can place a book, newspaper, magazine, or a box of food in front of the OrCam, point at it with a finger, and the system will instantly begin to read the text aloud in a very easy to understand voice.
The OrCam can also be taught to identify faces of people by storing photographs into the system. This will allow users to know who is sitting across from them at the dinner table or at a meeting.
The cost of the OrCam My Eye system is 5000 Australian dollars and this device is very easy to learn to use, [and it comes with a training package and dedicated support].
For more information, go to www.orcam.com or call (866) 976-7226.
Smart Glasses with Implants:
The last category of smart glasses are those that involve the surgical implant of an electrode chip in the retina of the eye or directly into the visual cortex of the brain. Second Sight is a company from Los Angeles, CA that has successfully developed electrical chips that receive electrical impulses from a camera of the glasses and provides enhanced vision.
The treatment has received approval for the use in adults with retinitis pigmentosa and it has actually restored vision in some people who were totally blind. However, the level of vision for those who benefited from the surgery and the device was not equal to their vision in the past.
The people who benefited most reported that they can often see people, objects, and read large numbers and letters. However, their vision was not at a level that allowed them to read books or to drive an automobile.
Vision is a very complex process that involves the eyes and the brain. In cases where there is severe damage to the retina, an electronic chip called the Argus-60 can be surgically inserted into the retina.
As users scans the environment, the camera sends electrical signals to the Argus-60 chip and the signals are sent to the optic nerve and processed in the visual cortex of the brain. Today, clinical trials of the Argus-60 are being performed on people with macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
In 2016, The Orion Cortical Eye Visual prosthesis was successfully implanted into the visual cortex of the brains of study participants at the UCLA Doris Stein Eye Institute. Clinical trials are moving forward today to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the Orion.
The Orion shows very high potential as this system may be able to restore some vision in people with low vision regardless of their eye disease.
For more information, go to www.secondsight.com.
All people who are interested in trying non-surgical smart glasses should call the appropriate company and ask for a free demonstration.
It would also be very helpful if you could schedule appointments with multiple companies on the same day so that you can compare the benefits of each system.