Computer vision is a key component in enabling augmented reality experiences, but now it can help give sight to the blind as well. In this case, that assistance comes from Envision, developers of mobile apps for iOS and Android that use optical character recognition (OCR) and object detection to provide an audio description of the user's surroundings.
The company has now adapted its software for operation within the hardware framework of Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, which it will sell bundled with the Envision app as "Envision Glasses."
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Envision is now accepting pre-orders for a limited quantity of Envision Glasses with prices ranging from $1,718 to 2,176. The company expects to fulfill pre-orders by July 2020.
Before deciding to proceed with Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, the company evaluated more than 15 smartglasses competitors, using criteria including price, form factor, software support, build quality, and performance.
"After many iterative developments and support from the Google Glass team, we were able to build a prototype and test with our user group to the point where we are now confident about introducing it to our users. This will be first of our many smartglasses offering," the company noted in a statement referencing the launch.
"We see this market heading in a positive direction with several big and small players creating their own versions of smartglasses. We will continually be testing with compatible smart glasses and when there is one that meets our standards and requirements, we will make it available to our users."
The computer vision software takes a variety of approaches to assisting users. Using OCR, Envision's software can read blocks of text and even handwritten notes to the user. Also, by double-tapping the touch sensor on the smartglasses, the app can provide a description of the scene in front of the user.
Additionally, the software can act as a visual search engine to find specific objects in the user's surroundings. And using facial recognition, the app also catalogs the names of friends, family, and associates for use in various instances. Finally, as a fallback when extra help is needed, the system can call out to a live agent for remote assistance.
While Google has made it easier for developers to build Android-based apps for the newest version of the original Enterprise Edition of Glass, Envision has had to find its own workarounds for some of the shortcomings of Google's wearable. For example, TalkBack, an accessibility service for Android that dictates the on-screen user interface, does not support Glass, so Envision built its own version of the service.
This isn't the first time Google Glass has been outfitted to help blind or visually-impaired individuals, as startup Aira previously launched a service that used the Google Glass camera to give live phone agents a view of the customer's surroundings. That company now has its own smartglasses called Aira Horizon Smartglasses. The company also has its own AI assistant, Chloe, which is currently in beta, for providing assistance to users in lieu of a live agent.
Prior to making the Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 available for purchase directly through resellers, Google relied on various solutions providers, including enterprise AR software makers like SightCall, Ubimax, and Upskill, as well as healthcare software providers like Augmedix.
However, while those providers focus on business solutions, Envision has its sights set on improving the lives of the visually impaired. And while it's a niche market, it is nevertheless another step in the direction of the mainstream consumer segment that Google Glass never quite made it to.