For users with good to great vision, augmented reality means adding additional information and graphics on top of a real-world scene. But for users with low vision, simply being able to see the real world is a huge step forward — and one U.K. startup GiveVision will address with new AR-like glasses that are more comfortable and socially acceptable than prior options.
Having previously released a VR goggles-style wearable called SightPlus, GiveVision has designed SightPlus 2 (also called SightPlus Generation 2) to resemble early AR glasses — smaller, lighter in weight, and akin to boxy sunglasses. They use what the company describes as a combination of VR and AR to simulate human vision with an over 100-degree field of view “in near real time.” The company is working with Sony to develop and manufacture the lightweight wearable, going so far as to relocate its design office to a Sony UK facility in South Wales.
Over 191 million people worldwide suffer from moderate to severe sight loss, so there’s a large potential audience for a digital vision-improving wearable; sufferers of macular degeneration, optic neuritis, and diabetic retinopathy are among those who could benefit. In hospital testing, close to 70% of SightPlus prototype testers reported that their vision was improved to nearly normal levels using the device, and 98% reported an average of six lines of improvement on a sight test chart.
The key to SightPlus 2 is incorporating its display and camera technology directly within glasses frames. Originally, SightPlus used a Samsung Gear VR-like design to mount a smartphone in front of the wearer’s eyes, using custom software and the device’s camera to help users read, see faces, and watch television. SightPlus’ £2,995 ($3,612) purchase price can be split into a £55 ($66) monthly subscription plan, in each case giving the user access to customer support, free software updates, and a multi-year warranty.
Thus far, the company has only leaked a few specs for SightPlus 2, including its six-hour battery life, 110-gram (0.24-pound) weight, and a 36-month warranty. Plus and minus control buttons are evident on the right temple, potentially for brightness adjustments, and the headset’s shape suggests that side projecting displays could be used to augment the wearer’s vision. GiveVision notes that it was developed with and funded by the European Space Agency and uses visual data processing technology created for European space satellites.
Several companies have been working on next-generation wearable solutions for low vision users, notably including Envision and Google, which are using Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 to improve vision using AI — at an already steep price of $2,099. Pricing for the new SightPlus 2 model isn’t yet available.