Description and comparison of 14 head-borne digital devices used by the visually impaired for activities of daily living.
Image: LeVar Burton as Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation Photo source: Robert Wilson
A new generation of those who are visually disabled, do not want to take a backseat to opportunity and mobility because of low vision. There is hope and an expectation by those within the low vision community that wearable assistive technology will fill in the gap to allow them to perform activities of daily living and give them the freedom that is enjoyed by those who are not visually impaired.
The technology that has advanced in the last decade is wearable, head-borne digital devices or ‘electronic glasses.’ There are two modes:
(1) Vision enhancement and
(2) non-visual assistance.
Vision enhancement utilizes magnification and is best suited for those with some residual vision. Those with central vision loss benefit from increased magnification.
Non-visual assistance does not require the user to have usable vision, but provides orientation, navigation, and object identification by auditory cues. Those with severe vision loss benefit from non-visual assistance.
Field Expansion Smart Glasses
I would like to add a third smaller category called field expansion smart glasses. These glasses are designed specifically for those with significant visual field loss. Those with retinitis pigmentosa, advanced glaucoma, stroke patients, and those with degenerative retinopathies will be benefit from this technology. One company has designed glasses specifically for field expansion and high contrast for these patients. OxSight out of the UK makes OxSight Crystal. (Discussed below.) Two other creators have added field expansion and high contrast features to their electronic glasses; Acesight and IrisVision Inspire.
Here are a few options to evaluate:
Battery Life: These units run on rechargable batteries. Most last 2 to 3 hours, some claim 4 hours. These times depend on how the unit is being used. A continuous video stream will last about two hours, intermittent use without using special functions, it may last longer. Many offer a cord to attach to an external power source or include additional rechargeable batteries.
Color modes are contrasting modes to enhance the image, especially applicable to reading text. They are most often color inversion, like white text on black or yellow text on black or inverted black text on yellow, or blue and yellow text combinations.
Controls: Many of the units are hands-free, self-contained units. They are controlled either by touch pads on the unit or by voice commands. Other methods are using Bluetooth hand-held remotes or control by utilizing an app on a smart phone.
OCR/TTS is an abbreviation for optical character recognition and text-to-speech. Computer software recognizes text within an image from the unit’s camera and is then able to translate it into words spoken through the unit’s speakers. Learn more about this technology: Electronic Technology: OCR, TTS, and STT
Smart phone and applications. There is a plus side to smart phones as a part of the unit because it greatly expands the functionality of the assistive device. The downside is that they need, in many cases but not all, to have an internet connection. Consider it may also involve a data use contract (Most of us have already been down that road with our personal cell phones.)
Television watching: How important is the ability to watch TV or stream videos? One way is to watch TV is as a magnified image through the glasses. The quality of the images is dependent on the camera and screens. Choose a high-speed camera and high-definition OLED screens. Another option is to have the electronic glasses stream TV or videos onto the screens of the device. This technology is more of a virtual reality, immersive experience.
Can these electronic glasses be worn while driving?
None of the electronic/digital glasses used for low vision enhancement are approved for driving. Optical aids permitted for driving are the bioptic lens systems.
I presented a discussion of these devices in an separate article: Low Vision Telescopes for Distance, Intermediate, and Near as Low Vision Aids
The OrCam is a head-borne device with a camera that uses artificial intelligence to recognize text and convert that text into speech (OCR/TTS). It is a small, lightweight device of less than an ounce that attaches magnetically to a clip fastened to the temple piece of regular eyeglasses.
- Type of Feedback: Auditory (text-to-speech) 20 languages.
- Type of Control: (1) voice commands, (2) taps and swipes on a touchpad, or (3) with the OrCam app.
- Weight: 0.79 oz, ( 22.5 g)
- Battery Life: 2 hours, because it is a small unit there is a trade-off of weight vs battery life.
- Price: MyEye $4,500. USD, payment plan available.
- Advantage: Small, lightweight, great for mobility.
- Unique features: Responds to voice commands, helps with orientation and mobility, and face, object, color, and currency recognition. Internet connection not required.
Note: OrCam Technologies makes another unit called the Read. This is not a wearable unit but is hand-held. Best for those with reading difficulties, such as those with milder forms of vision loss and those with dyslexia.
This unit is the Envision software running on the Google Glass system. The Envision AI software expands the use of Google Glass with OCR and ‘computer vision.’
The unit is mounted on the right side of a wire frame. It is controlled by a touchpad on the device using taps and finger swipes. A small screen is mounted over the right eye. The screen is clear and can be seen through when not in use.
The visually impaired will benefit from the Envision accessibility software and not so much from the small optical screen that may be difficult to see.
- Type of Feedback: Auditory text reading (OCR) and object recognition.
- Type of Control: Touchpad on the side of the unit.
- Weight: 1.6 oz (46 g)
- Field of View: 80 degrees (Google Glass).
- Battery Life: 4 hours. The unit can be attached to an external power source (USB C)for extended use.
- Price: $3,500. USD, €3268.91
- Advantages: Reading feed: reads any text presented to it, OCR can scan multiple texts, reads in 60 languages, can identify people known to you, currency and color identification. Bluetooth and WiFi wireless connection. Some applications require an internet connection.
- Unique Features: Envision Ally allows you to make video calls to family and friends for assistance when you need it. Explorer mode describes a scene and identifies objects and finds items in the environment around you. The Google Glass can download apps for greater functionality.
Note: The Envision AI app is available for download for Apple and Android OS smart phones. This app has all the functionality of the Envision Google Glass system using the smart phone camera and speakers. It is free to download and use for 14 days. Then it is billed as a subscription service: $1.99/month, $19.99/year, or $89.99 lifetime.
Cyber Eyez Smart Glasses
This is similar to the Envision smart glasses. It is the Cyber Eyez software loaded on to a pair of smart glasses. This unit is discussed in more detail later in this article as part of the Cyber Eyez Trifecta.
(Note: I have included Aira here because it was included in my original article about the Aira Horizon Smart Glasses.)
Aira has discontinued use of the smart glasses. It is a service utilizing a smart phone. It is designed to give real-time audio feedback from a person, called an agent, from a remote location. The camera on a smart phone is used to interact with the agent through the app.
They have added a new service called Team Viewer. A remote agent is given access, by your request, to help with desk-top personal computer on-screen navigation.
Aira Subscription Service by Aira Tech Corp.
- Type of Feedback: Auditory, as seen by an agent at a remote location.
- Type of Control: Smart phone app (Apple or Android.)
- Price: Subscription service: Pricing is based on minutes/month and country: pricing click here. The app is free.
- Advantage: Very easy to use and is best for mobility and is useful for the legally blind. It also uses an AI assistant called Chloe, which responds to voice commands and can read text. New addition is Team Viewer for on-screen computer navigation and assistance.
- Unique Feature: Immediate access to assistance from a sighted agent as a subscription service. GPS-assisted mapping.
There are two models: Acesight and Acesight VR
The producers call it an open design. The 2 screens are mounted in front of the eyes and a darkly tinted shield is mounted over them. This shield cuts down on external light interference but still allows for the user to use peripheral vision for mobility. The camera is located centrally over the bridge of the nose. The battery and controller are connected by a wire to the headset.
There are two versions; Acesight and Acesight S. The ‘S’ version has fewer features. They both have:
- Type of feedback: Visual magnification: 1.2 to 15x, zoom.
- Type of Control: Hand-held remote wired to headset.
- Field of View: 45 degrees.
- Weight: 12.6 oz (360 g).
- Battery Life: 4.5 hours.
- Price: Acesight $4,295.00 USD, Acesight S $2,995. USD.
- Advantages: Binocular, open design allows for mobility. Ability to lock the autofocus to create a stable image. Does well with computer screen viewing.
- Unique features: Outline mode for object identification (sharpens contrast lines), Freeze frame option freezes an image creating a stable image that can be moved around or zoom-in or out for inspection. This feature is good for those with nystagmus.
Where the Acesight and Acesight S differ: The Acesight has;
1. More color contrast modes,
2. Narrow mode: zooms out and shrinks the image for those who have lost visual field (ex: RP, glaucoma).
3. Find function: zoom in and out to locate the object of interest.
Acesight VR: by Zoomax Technology Co.
This is similar in appearance to the other VR headsets (Patriot ViewPoint, IrisVision Live, and Vision Buddy). It is controlled by a Bluetooth remote controller. There are adjustable straps around the head and another on top to support the VR unit.
- Type of Feedback: magnification to 16X.
- Type of Control: Bluetooth remote controller.
- Field of View: 65 degrees
- Battery Life: 2.5 to 3 hours, it can also be attached to an external power source for extended use.
- Weight: 1 lb (460 g)
- Price: $2,495. USD.
- Advantages: Wireless control, does not use Wi-Fi. It has a high-resolution HD screen with brightness control.
- Unique Features: Narrow display feature: zooms out and shrinks the image for those who have lost visual field (ex: RP, glaucoma). High contrast outline mode. Find feature: zoom in and out to locate the object of interest. Freeze frame option freezes an image creating a stable image that can be moved around or zoom-in or out for inspection.
Cyber Eyez VR and Cyber Eyez VR Trifecta
This wearable is offered in two formats:
Cyber Eyez VR and Cyber Eyez Trifecta. The Cyber Eyez is a virtual reality headgear with a Samsung 9S phone as the camera and screen.
The Trifecta goes beyond just the VR headset and phone with the addition of ‘smart glasses’ and the Cyber Eyez software application, ‘app.’
The Trifecta app expands the usability of the Cyber Eyez VR. The Samsung phone can be removed from the VR headset and used with the smart glasses, which has a camera attached to one temple of the frame. This camera is attached to the cell phone so the user does not need to walk around with the larger and heavier VR headset. The camera images appear on the phone.
- Type of Feedback: Visual magnification to 20x and auditory OCR/TTS.
- Type of Control: Bluetooth remote or voice commands.
- Battery Life: 2 – 4 hours, charging cable can be attached directly to the unit.
- Weight: unknown (VR headsets are about a pound (454 g), 1.7 oz (48 g), Trifecta smart glasses.
- Price: VR and Bluetooth remote: $1,995. USD,
Cyber Eyez Trifecta: $2,999. USD (It is possible to purchase the smaller smart glasses with the Cyber Eyez software separately.)
- Advantages: Screen placement flexibility. Trifecta glasses allow for mobility. Color enhancement and contrast control.
- Unique features: Cyber Eyez app (Trifecta), Google object recognition, color assistant, product bar code identification, and free online training.
The eSight has a camera located centrally over the bridge of the nose. There are 2 high-resolution screens, one in front of each eye.
The unit is supported by a halo headband which is adjustable and does not place pressure on the bridge of the nose. The battery pack is located at the back, near the neckline.
The control touchpad is located on the right side of the headband. The unit can also be controlled by a Bluetooth remote or iOS or Android app on the smart phone.
- Type of Feedback: Visual magnification (up to 24x zoom) and auditory feedback for menu navigation.
- Type of Control: Touchpad on the right side of unit, a Bluetooth remote, or the eSight app on a smart phone (Apple or Android.)
- Weight: 1 lb (454 g)
- Battery Life: 3 hours of continuous use. Includes 2 rechargeable batteries.
- Price: $5,950. USD. The company offers a monthly payment plan.
- Advantages: High definition, high-speed camera, tilts up to allow for peripheral vision and mobility. Headlamp for dim situations. Takes photos and videos. Can control brightness, contrast, and has color mode options.
- Unique features: Shared accounts so others can see what is on the display and help customize your experience. HDMI connectivity for watching television and other streaming services. Telehealth training program (5 hours) for interactive training at home and automatic software updates.
Iris Vision Live
Iris Vision is a simple head-mounted magnifier. It utilizes an Android Samsung S7 phone, mounted into the Samsung Gear VR goggles. It operates using the camera of the phone and just the one large screen of the Samsung S7 phone.
- Type of Feedback: Magnification ( up to 12X) and auditory OCR/TTS.
- Battery Life: 3 hours.
- Price: $2,950. USD, call for financing options.
- Advantages: It has the capability to capture images and display photo galleries. The user can stream videos. Cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity for remote support.
- Unique features: Responds to voice commands using Google Assistant. Wireless charging.
IrisVision Inspire (Newest version)
The new IrisVision Inspire wearable does away with the smart phone screen. The design looks more like sunglasses rather than the heavier gaming-style VR headset. There are 2 screens, one in front of each eye, which can be turned off independent of each other. It still has cellular and Wi-fi connectivity.
- Type of Feedback: Magnification up to 10x.
- Type of Control: Buttons under the lenses, remote controller, or responds to voice commands. Attached to a smart phone for image processing.
- Weight: Lighter because the image processing is done by the smart phone and not a part of the headset.
- Field of View: 77 degrees.
- Battery life: 3 hours, wireless charging.
- Price: $3,995. USD, includes a fully functioning Samsung Galaxy S21 and a 24 month cellular data contract.
- Advantages: High contrast reading modes, You Tube video streaming, ability to make phone calls, and voice command capable. There is a data usage plan for the phone, Amazon Alexa, and video streaming on the go, on a per-month basis.
- Unique Features: Free software updates and free remote support. RP mode allows those with peripheral vision loss to shrink down the image. Wireless charging dock.
Jordy is a wearable electronic magnifier. It looks less like a set of eyeglasses and more like space-age headgear. It is secured on the head with a strap that encircles the head.
The camera is centrally located over the bridge of the nose and there are screens in front of each eye. Prescription lenses can be inserted for better optics.
The battery and tactile controls are in a unit connected to the headset by a wire.
The company Enhanced Vision offers, as an additional purchase, a monitor with a mount to attach the Jordy. When mounted on the monitor it serves a second function as a desktop magnifier, similar to a CCTV.
- Type of Feedback: Visual magnification, zoom (equivalent 30x for distance.) Snap up lens for near reading distance.
- Type of Control: Wired to a hand-held controller.
- Weight: 8 oz (227 g).
- Battery Life: 4 hours for the small battery, 8 hours for the large battery. (rechargeable).
- Price: $2,500. USD, $995. USD for docking station and monitor.
- Advantages: HD camera with color mode controls. Optical locator box and HDMI input for TV viewing with brightness and volume control.
- Unique feature: Can be worn on the head or mounted as a CCTV.
NuEyes Pro 3
NuEyes Pro are smart glasses that look like a set of sunglasses. They are designed for both visual and auditory feedback. A camera unit is mounted centrally on the bridge of the frame. It is a wireless and self-contained unit with a battery and processor. The two OLED screens display a live stream of what the camera is viewing.
- Type of Feedback: Visual magnification(1x to 12x zoom) (AR technology) and auditory (OCR).
- Type of Control: Voice commands or wireless smart phone app as a remote.
- Weight: 3.1 oz ( 88gm)
- Field of View: 52 degrees
- Battery Life: 1.5 to 2 hours, it does come with a battery pack for extended use.
- Price: $1,995. USD, purchase includes a Samsung S20.
- Advantages: Ability to remove ‘shades’ for enhanced peripheral vision. Utilizes OCR/TTS for reading. Can take pictures and videos.
- Unique features: Full functions of an Android tablet with downloadable Android apps. Ability to stream any subscription based mobile streaming service. Has a head-lamp to increase light in dim situations. Ability to insert prescription eyewear.
OxSight is a team of researchers and clinicians out of the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. They have designed an easy to use, lighter weight electronic eyewear for those with central vision loss. It looks like a large pair of sunglasses. The camera is centrally located over the bridge of the nose. It utilizes two OLED screens.
- Type of Feedback: Magnification to 8x zooms in and out.
- Type of Control: Large tactile buttons on top of the unit.
- Field of View: 70 degrees
- Battery Life: 2 – 3 hours, it does have a sleep mode when not in use.
- Weight: 7.4 oz, (210 g)
- Price: $1,799. USD
- Advantages: Low light mode, TV mode, freeze frame mode, object recognition, brightness control and autofocus.
- Unique Features: Smaller and lighter in weight than other electronic headsets. Not a lot of bells and whistles which makes it simpler to use “right out of the box.”
The OxSight Crystal headset looks like a pair of space-age glasses. Designed for those with significant visual field loss. It is useful for visual field expansion and vision enhancement. The camera is located on the right side of the unit. It has two HD displays with a sun shield that is removable. The unit is wired to a remote to control its numerous enhancement modes. This unit is not designed for walking around, as it impedes depth perception.
- Type of feedback: Visual field expansion and vision enhancement. Capability to zoom in and out.
- Type of control: Hand-held remote wired to headset on the left side. .
- Field of view: Can be expanded to 68 degrees.
- Battery Life: 2 -3 hours.
- Weight: 2.9 oz, 83 g
- Advantages: Can be worn with prescription eyeglasses, removable tinted shield for those with light sensitivity.
- Unique Features: Besides visual filed expansion, it has 7 vision enhancement modes: full-color video, black and white, color edges, high contrast, super color enhancement, super color edges and text mode.
This electronic magnifier uses the Android-based Samsung S8 phone mounted into a Samsung Gear VR headset. The screen is enclosed to prevent stray light from interfering with the clarity and quality of the screen.
Magnification, brightness, and color modes are controlled by a touchpad on the right side.
- Type of Feedback: Visual magnification, 1x – 20x and auditory OCR/TTS for reading.
- Type of Control: Touchpad on right side and a few controls on the front of the headset.
- Weight: VR head Gear weight about a pound (454 g.)
- Field of View: Wide, immersive.
- Battery Life: 2 hours continuous use. An external power source can be attached for extended use.
- Price: $2,995. USD.
- Advantages: Wireless. Large field of view. Capability to zoom out for distance and in for near reading distance. OCR for text reading. Can be worn over most prescription glasses.
- Unique Features: 11 contrast modes, automatic shut-off after no movement for 15 minutes and a headphone jack for headphones or external speaker.
This is a VR headset originally designed for TV watching and reading. It comes with a transmitter that connects to a streaming media box. The transmitter sends the signal to the headset. No wire connection between the headset and transmitter. The video appears on the headset screen, as opposed to a magnified view of the TV across the room. This gives a better quality immersive TV watching experience. Internet is not needed to operate.
The headset unit has speakers. It also has a plug to attach external speakers or headphones.
- Type of Feedback: Magnification to 10X zoom, text reading (OCR/TTS.)
- Type of control: Buttons on the headset, no remote, no wires.
- Field of View: Very wide and allows the user to zoom in and out.
- Battery life: 2.5 hours or 5 -6 with an external battery.
- Weight: 1 lb 1 oz, (481 g)
- Price: $2,995 USD.
- Advantages: 3 Modes: (1) Television watching, (2) digital magnification, and (3) optical character recognition and text-to-speech (OCF/TTS)
- Unique features: Immersive video experience with video streaming on the headset screen. Any cable box, Roku, Apple TV, etc., that accepts HDMI from the Vision Buddy transmitter can be used to stream videos.
In the End…
Determining which unit is right for you can be difficult. The manufactures are changing and updating their product as the technology evolves.
The right assistive device for you will depend on your type of vision loss and your remaining useable vision. While some of these head-borne devices are simple to understand and use, others require some training and willingness to learn new technology. The functionality of some of these devices is incredible.
Determine what your priorities are and how you want your unit to help you. For example:
Reading and/or video and television watching,
mobile or stationary,
work or school ( a lot of functionality) or leisure (casual viewing.)
Learn about CCTVs for school and work accessibility: What is CCTV for the Visually Impaired?