New Glasses Allow Deaf People to ‘See’ Conversations by Turning Audio into Subtitles

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A company has created augmented reality spectacles that place subtitles on conversations happening in the real world.

Dan Scarfe was sad to see his 97-year-old grandfather sitting quietly in a room on Christmas Day, surrounded by his family, but unable to join in with conversation because of his hearing loss.

“It’s got to the point now where he literally just sits in silence,” Scarfe said. “And I thought, well, hang on a second. He watches TV all the time with subtitles. Why can’t we subtitle the world?”

What seems like an ordinary pair of glasses are actually using Amazon Alexa software to turn incoming audio into closed captioning, before the software developed by Scarfe and his company Nreal project those CCs through augmented reality onto the world through the glasses.

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It took him just six months to launch the XRAI glasses, and while the software can’t cope with people speaking over each other, Scarfe insists it’s just the beginning.

“We’re going with a small number to begin with to prove it out, to get the feedback, to understand what people like, what they don’t like, [and] rapidly innovate on that,” said Scarfe. “And then we’re hoping if the winds are behind us, then we will reach general availability by September.”

The portability is impressive, as the glasses are just glasses, and a normal cable connects to your smartphone. It’s being hailed as a lifechanging innovation by Britain’s Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) and the organization DeafKidz.

“As a profoundly deaf person myself, I was blown away by this technology,” said Steve Crump, Founder and Chair, DeafKidz International. “When I tried on the glasses, I was astonished—real time subtitles that enable you to engage and participate as never before.”

With 12 million potential users, the glasses can be purchased through a British healthcare provider network, and financed for around £35 per month for 11 months.

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