eSight -- wearable correction for low vision

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Dallas E Webster

Mar 30, 2015, 12:53:49 AM3/30/15
to Techlunch, Accessibility SIG

About this time last year, I posted some details and observations about a product called "eSight", to TechLunch. But when I recently wanted to forward it to a colleague, I could not find it in the TechLunch archive. I have had periods where my postings were mysteriously and silently rejected. This must have been one of them. The rejections are accidental, not intentional, the the List Admin has never figured out why it occurs. In fact, my initial posting about eSight was published to TechLunch, while the follow-up was not.

Undaunted, I will repost at this belated date, and hope for success, since TechLunch seems to have been passing on all of my recent posts. I think there is still value in my comments. In fact, I'm going to edit and augment my failed post, since I picked up new info and resources in the interim. And this time, I will check on the disposition of the post and cross-post it to Accessibility SIG.

Note that much of what I say here is aimed at potential candidates for this technology. Interested non-users may just want to check out the link to the overview video below, but others may be interested enough to read further, to get a peak at the technology, or some functional and operational details.

The product, eSight, from eSight Eyewear, is most simply described as computerized goggles that compensate for low vision, with a specific emphasis on macular degeneration, and other low vision problems.. The company says that eSight "is the only intelligent eyewear that enables people with legal blindness to actually see". This seems to be a technology worth some attention. Supplement what I say here by taking a look at the company's website
There is a lot of new info on the site: user experiences; demo/event schedule ("Try eSight" link) FAQ; comparison charts re other low-vision solutions; media reports; funding requests. There is also a nice 2-1/2 minute operational overview on the website, which has been distributed broadly. It is audio and video, but some of my remarks below can be considered poor man's advance closed captioning for some of the visual detail, which may help actual potential users in the audience and provides a lot more detail in general, assembled from my experience with, research on, and observations and review of the device.

I immediately discovered that eSight Eyewear screens people who express interest in eSight, up front, both to make sure that they can benefit from and can afford the device -- it is quite expensive: $12,950, when it was introduced last year. It seems to have gone up to $15,000 now. But it is nice to note that eSight Eyewear is now actively seeking donations and generating funding options, so that the eSight can be provided to people that could not afford them on their own.

The preliminary screenings can be done by phone or on the website. Once they see that you are a serious candidate, they will make an appointment, at which they will give you more details, then a series of examinations and demonstrations, to see if eSight is an appropriate fit. They seem to have offices only in Ottawa and Toronto, but have demos and events all across the country, including Dallas and Houston -- all by appointment only and all of which fill up quickly. I gather that serious candidates can arrange convenient sites, even home or business. You can go through the website, or use the contact point I was given:
Kelly Fantin
Business Devt and Field Sales Mgr
eSight: Bringing Vision To Life
535 Legget Drive, Suite 200
Ottawa Ontario   K2K 3B8
Work: 613-271-9535, ext 222
Toll free: 855-837-4448
Mobile: 647-223-7653
It was available in Austin when I first discovered the technology. I spotted this device in an ad about this time last year and synergistically discovered that there was a hands-on demo in Austin within the next 3 weeks, announcing the product launch at an open house Dr. Laura Miller's Low Vision Service.
It is no longer available there, because of a change in the sales/service model. More on that and Dr. Miller in a subsequent post.

As an assistive technology specialist, I was able to finagle an invitation to that demo day. I was also allowed to invite direct consumers, which I did in my successful post here.

I will try to provide some insight I got at the demo, and subsequent research, to help you decide how and whether to follow up.

At least 15 people, including me, signed up for eSight demos. The demos were supposed to be 30-60 minutes. Although they had 5-6 people, including an eSight Eyeware company rep, trained to demo it, they only had 2 devices. Since the Open House ran for about 4 hours, I did not think it would be fair or reasonable for me to deprive a potential user of a full demo slot (although I was actually the second to sign up). So I got into some AT discussions, related to low vision, with some true candidate clients , and got one to let me piggyback with him (and his son). He did get some benefit from my observations, as well as I did from his. But that meant I did not get a true hands-on demo. On the other hand, not having macular degeneration or official low vision (my near-sightedness and contacts don't count), it was informative to see someone with such vision impairment trying to use the devices. Still, I felt like I should not interfere with his demo, though I had lots of questions, comments and suggestions. I screened my input, choosing what I thought might be reasonable and helpful, and not distracting of time consuming, to a demo/sales process.

From the pictures and description, you will quickly agree that "goggles" is a more appropriate term than "glasses", because they stick out, wrap around and actually appears fairly cumbersome. The device looks very well made. Though large and awkward looking, they are also very light and seemed well balanced. Still, they have a strap to hold them in place. Hey, at 15 grand, I'd want some security! The digital hardware portion of the goggles can be rotated upward to provide normal vision, via a pair of integrated prescription glasses. Note that this means eSight is augmenting a user's corrected vision. The system may already be a little smaller than the one I saw last year. I expect it to shrink much more. The company says you can wear them anywhere, like glasses, but you will feel like you're wearing goggles and it will be conspicuous. But function surely wins over form in this arena. As I will discuss below, the battery life is not conducive to continuous use, possibly not even full-workday use.

The piggy on whose back I riding, i.e., the true candidate for this technology, found it a bit hard to get used to. He appeared to do pretty well in terms of keeping his head steady, but had some trouble "aiming" at what he wanted to see. Aiming should be akin to looking, but this user's vision was sufficiently degraded that he really didn't know where to look. But he said he was impressed when he got aimed correctly. Part of his problem was that the certified trainer was directing him where to look, as opposed to him just looking where he wanted. I suggested afterwards that they have a broader spectrum of visual objects, so there was something sight-worthy most everywhere he looked. [I made a couple of other suggestions to improve the demo, which were well-received.] Another problem was that, although the device includes a built-in set of lenses at the user's prescription, during the demo, the user did not have his usual correction, so was "flying blind", in a fairly literal sense. Moreover, I determined that, during a full evaluation, the trainer can perform the usual A-B optical choices within the device, so that the customer will have his latest prescription in it, prior to purchase. I figured that this was surely the case, but it was comforting to have it confirmed.

The lightness of the glasses is offset by the heaviness of its remote controller, which the user must carry around, as it was (and apparently still is) wired to the glasses. It houses the main computer, several manual controls and a battery. It is also fairly large. It might fit into a suit coat pocket, though just barely. The battery lasts only about 4 hours, and charges overnight, but it comes with two removable batteries -- There goes your other pocket; at least the weight will be balanced! I recall it comes with a carry bag and strap. Still, as I previously indicated, you can't rely on it for all-day use, even if you wanted to. It could be awful to have the batteries die while you are relying on them. I really think that, despite the ads, the system is intended for usage in specific activities, in discrete intervals, not for continuous use. Battery life may not be a problem in such usage: Turning off the image processing should increase the time between charges.

Note the large size of the remote may enable a better physical control interface, discussed in detail below, for people with low vision. So there could be a size/usabilty tradeoff. But it all does feel a little awkward, and lighter could help.

Surely, these devices will get smaller, lighter, less conspicuous and wireless, eventually supported by a cloud server, with the portable server as back-up. The battery life should also increase and the price is bound to drop dramatically. The size of the controller is probably related to the battery, but that tachnology is improving. Moreover, if the processing moved to a remote server,the battery size/capacity could decrease and its in-use life increase.

The remote has only a small number of mechanical controls and associated functions, which allow users to improve or accommodate vision for many situations. -- zoom, contrast, brightness, and color. The simplicity is useful for operation with low or no vision, and also makes the controls easy to learn. This remote has 2 dials and 5 raised buttons arranged as in a directional keypad or game pad. A user can freeze the frame, which allows for stable viewing, e.g., for reading or enjoying a view. Zoom is controlled by a dial (specifically, a large rotating knob) and ranges from 1.5X to 14X zoom, which is a pretty wide range of focus, covering many sorts of activities -- reading, TV, sporting events etc. The online and video demos show continuous zoom, but the live demo showed only discrete increments. The trainer said she was not sure, but she had mention 6 levels of zoom in her presentation. This rotary zoom control has discrete stops, with detent-like haptic or motor feedback.

Contrast is also controlled by a dial, a smaller knob. It has a dual function: rotating adjusts contrast continuously, while pressing down on the knob steps the images through six discrete custom color combinations. These functions allow the user to adjust their view to better distinguish objects and words.

Finally, there is that 5-button control, whose functions control brightness up and down, and focus, and allow the user freeze the frame or rest the device to defaults (which I think users can customize).

The certified trainers only vaguely conveyed how the technology was really working. But I asked a few questions and searched around for better details of the basic technology. One of the best sources was

which corroborates and augments my research.

The goggles capture HD video at the user’s eye level and send the images to the image processor in the controller. The video is optimizes in the context of the user’s settings and specified information about his or her visual condition. This optimized video is sent back to the goggles and displays images on its LED screens, which the user then sees through their built-in prescription lenses. This happens in real time. An interesting aspect is that the system leverages the user's peripheral vision, which is not affected by macular degenerations: by stimulating the functioning of those photo receptors, neurons, or cones, and combining everything to create an image in the brain which can defy the user’s eye conditions.

Here are some questions that popped into my mind, but I did not feel I should ask in my mode as an interested, non-distracting observer. The experts/trainers were too busy to ask post-demo, and I never followed through.

What is included in the initial setup?
How much of the price is setup and training?
What would be the replacement price for the individual components?
How does it adapt to vision changes?
Are there integration issues for the individual displays for each eye?
Is there any money back guarantee, if short term success does not portend long term success. [I recall reading that there is a 30-day policy.]
Will there be a migration path to improvements?

Dallas Webster
Assistive Technology Specialist
Upstream Technology
Making the Best of Your Abilities
(512)461-4696 (cell)
(512)795-9763 (voice/fax)

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