For the past week a viral video has been posted on several tech pages. The video pictures a legally blind woman seeing her newborn baby for the first time, with the help of a pair of ‘glasses’. However, we do not want to jump on the bandwagon too soon and praise the technology to the skies – so we will just summarize what is out there as we go along in our investigation.
You see the thing is, in the array of sources that have reported about this magical moment, the information regarding the product itself has been very sparse. This is a general problem in our society, since we are continuously at a hunt for sensation. Most sites actually only link to the fundraiser campaign of the woman’s sister, who is also legally blind, and not the company behind the innovation. Whether the whole thing might seem as a PR trick similar to some of the non-existing products on crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indigogo is up for debate. On the other hand, maybe the product just works so incredibly well that she wants to tell the world in, order to help others. Additionally, there are several stories on the web about people with impaired vision that have found remedy in the glasses. Maybe this company has something real to offer after all?
The venture behind the innovative eyewear is named eSight Corp and is based in Ottawa, Canada. The Ottawa Business Journal reported as early as spring 2013 that the company had already attracted over $4 million in venture capital, so there seems to have been some substantial funding for the entrepreneurs. Later the same year, the company was featured in an extensive piece from Canadian startup news site Betakit, which actually gives us some insight into the technology behind product displayed in the viral video.
According to Betakit, eSight’s glasses can digitally optimize video in such a way that awakens the remaining functional neurons (or cones). The eyewear then enhances the images which causes the remaining receptors to send an improved signal to the brain. Moreover, Engineering.com reports that the user can use a controller to enhance the video image with zoom (1.5 – 14x), contrast, brightness and reverse color displays. The controller even allows the user to freeze a frame, for reading or to save the picture onto an integrated micro disk. Here is a simple schematic picture of how the system is created:
According to Newswire, the customizable device has been shown to work for those from age 8 to 88. However, and perhaps worth mentioning, Hot Hardware writes that the device will not work for people that have total vision loss; it will only works in cases where people have some low level of vision (these individuals often only see blurry, undefined shapes). Also, as you might have noticed, the eSight devices are large and bulky, but Tech Times reports that further development will be directed to creating new versions of the glasses which are less obtrusive than the ones available today. In any case, the glasses are described by Engineering.com (see earlier link) as fundamentally different from both consumer market devices and current low-vision assistive technologies, in terms of price-to-performance as well as regarding usability and customization. Below is a fresh, and quite touching, news piece from FOX News where they interview a veteran trying out the device:
Reportedly, the company’s technology could be able to help 75 % of all of the world’s people with low vision or legal blindness. In the United States, any person with vision that cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in the best eye is considered legally blind. This means that a legally blind individual would have to stand 20 feet (6.1 m) from an object to see it—with corrective lenses—with the same degree of clarity as a normally sighted person could from 200 feet (61 m). According to WHO, there are currently 285 million people that are blind or have low vision.
Our initial skepticism towards the product was probably unjust, considering that several early and more descriptive sources proclaim a launching date of 2015. Moreover, if you go back in time there is a plethora of references of significant magnitude providing details of the technology. As this site strives to produce complex news in an easily digestible way we will not provide you with details, but a simple search for earlier sources is to recommend for the curious one and the remaining skeptic. Where it comes to this website’s standpoint, in all conclusiveness, we guess that this product actually is as good as the bewildered woman (which we initially mentioned) points out in her fundraising campaign. Finally, if you are still looking for the initially mentioned ‘viral video’, you just need to click here.